Guests that have seen the COSI team garden, which is viewable from the Level 2 hallway on the way to the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, know that the COSI team likes to eat our vegetables. As we move into the time of year when vegetables become more plentiful in the stores, farmers markets, and our own gardens, the question arises “what to do with all this produce?”. There are many good reasons to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and the USDA recommends filling half of your plate with them. Here at COSI, in addition to liking to eat our greens, we also like using items for new and interesting purposes. One way to use some of the screw-top jars you may have laying around the house and some of that surplus produce at the same time is to make jar salads.
Just like in many areas of science, building the perfect jar salad requires following a procedure and sticking to a method. Here I am providing just one of my kitchen-tested recipes for a Greek salad in a jar. By following this procedure, though, you can create endless combinations to use your favorite fruits or vegetables. That way you can prepare lunches for your family for a whole week without getting bored.
Greek Salad in a Jar
Makes 4-5 quart size jar salads
-1 bottle store bought Greek dressing (or you could make your own!)
- 1 small jar pickled banana peppers (I prefer hot)
- 1 pint-sized container cherry tomatoes cut in half
- 1 red onion medium dice
- 3-4 bell peppers depending on size medium dice
- 2 cups whole wheat couscous prepared following package directions and cooled to room temp
-2 cups cooked roasted chicken (make yourself by baking chicken breast in 400 degree oven for 30-40 minutes and roughly chopping or buy a rotisserie chicken from the grocery and shred)
-1 5oz. container crumbled feta cheese
-1 cucumber medium dice
-2 heads romaine lettuce: washed and chopped or enough bagged salad to fill remainder of jars
- Line up your clean jars on the counter or table and have all of your ingredients prepared and close at hand.
- The first step is to add the acidic dressing to the bottom of the jar. Add 2-3 tablespoons to each jar depending on your preference. Consider that this layer will contribute significantly to the caloric content of the salad.
- Next, layer the banana peppers, tomatoes, onions, and peppers. The ingredients near the bottom of the jar are all items that stand up well to being bathed in acid. A good way to think about this is that anything that would taste good as a pickle can go near the bottom of the jar. Experiment with different kinds of produce and different combinations to see what you like. The point here is that we are creating a barrier between the dressing and the more fragile ingredients to come.
- Next, add the couscous, chicken, and feta. These ingredients are not as fragile as the lettuce above, but are not necessarily improved by soaking in dressing. When making your own creations you can add whatever you like but as a basic method this layer should include a complex carbohydrate and a protein. The cheese adds flavor but is not necessary. This layer should make up about half of the jar’s volume because the USDA recommends filling a quarter of your plate with protein foods and a quarter with grains. Other starch options include whole-wheat rotini, brown rice, or farrow. Other protein options include salmon, egg, or beans.
- Now add the last of the ingredients, in this case the cucumber and romaine. The cucumber here could have gone near the bottom but adding it at the top retains its “fresh” flavor. There are many different options for this layer like arugula or even kale but try to avoid iceberg lettuce, as it is largely non-nutritive.
- Lastly, tightly screw on the lids of the jars and put them in the fridge. Shake the salad out onto a plate or bowl when ready to eat.
- Congratulations, your lunches are made for the whole week!
As I said, experiment and find your own favorite combination. This method is a great way for everybody in the family to have a custom lunch that is healthy and delicious. Let us know in the comments if you have a jar salad recipe. Also let us know if there are any recipe or food science questions you think we should answer.