Too often, a salad is served out of obligation. We feel it is something we have to do to make the meal complete, but really don’t want to.
And too often that’s why the salads we serve aren’t all that great. We don’t really care about them. Thing is, I love a well-made salad, and for me it is no obligation to either serve or eat one. This salad, for example, a seven-layer creation built in a canning jar. I love how they look. I love how they taste. I even like the process of assembling them.
It’s basically a dressed-up version of a layered salad “casserole” that is popular in the South. When I was growing up in North Carolina, my friend Laura introduced the casserole-style salad to our potluck circle. It was made with layers of crunchy iceberg lettuce, canned baby peas and chopped red onion, then topped with crumbled bacon — all set into a 9-by-13-inch glass casserole dish.
A few years ago, I remembered that salad, how refreshing and crunchy it was while being just rich and salty enough to be satisfying.
So I decided to remake it for a dinner party. I dressed up the ingredients, but kept the flavours of Laura’s salad. The biggest difference was my presentation. I served it in individual pint-size Mason jars. Not only was it too cute for words, but you can make it up to two days in advance and not lose anything in quality.
Of course, the proof is in the eating, and you should have seen my guests! You would have thought it was a chocolate dessert. I love making this salad all spring and summer for casual cookouts and picnics.
I prefer using baby iceberg lettuce, which is soft and buttery, more like Boston lettuce than mature iceberg. But you can use your favourite lettuce. I layer thawed frozen peas, shallots and celery on top of the lettuce before sealing it with the dressing and topping with a sprinkle of crispy pancetta.
You could add other “dry” vegetables, such as carrots, sliced radishes, English cucumbers, etc. Any vegetables that are crunchy and not too wet or too acidic will work. If you want to add tomatoes, slice and add to the top of the salad just before serving. Also great to add are nuts, seeds, dried fruit and croutons.
SEVEN-LAYER MASON JAR SALADS
You will need four pint-size wide-mouth canning jars for this recipe.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
1 head iceberg lettuce, or baby iceberg lettuce, chopped
2 shallots, cut into thin rings
10-ounce package frozen green peas, thawed and drained
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
2 scallions, chopped
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
4 ounces of diced pancetta, cooked until just crisp
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In the bottom of each Mason jar, layer a quarter of the lettuce, then the shallots, peas and celery, in that order.
In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, scallions, vinegar and rosemary, then spread a quarter of it over each salad. Finish each salad with the crisped pancetta and Parmesan cheese. Can be covered and refrigerated for up to 48 hours. If refrigerated, let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.
Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pitmaster at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and author of three books, including “Taming the Flame.”