Tabemono Time: Meal Planning & Jar Salads

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Since about November, I’ve been doing my best to plan out at least a week’s worth of meals at a time. It saves money because I throw out less since I’m shopping with a plan. I’ll cook about once or twice a week, but make enough to last me quite a while.

I usually just buy a little bit of every vegetable that looks fresh at the store and go from there. A couple weeks ago they had rainbow heirloom tomatoes and every kind of bell pepper at the store, so I made ratatouille, slow-cooker chili, and a bunch of jar salads which all used similar ingredients. I’ll have picked one thing to make before I go to the store, last time it was chili, so then I try to think of other things that use the same ingredients. My vegetarian chili has beans, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onion, cilantro, chili powder, hot sauce and water. My rustic ratatouille has peppers, tomatoes, garlic, onion, zucchini, eggplant, thyme and oregano. In my jar salads I put carrots, pea pods, peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, and greens.  I will spend the night after shopping, washing, peeling, chopping and cooking.

The jar salads I think are my favorite because I can make them at the beginning of the week, and so long as the dressing doesn’t touch the greens, they will last the entire week. As anyone who has been to my apartment can attest, I have a lot of leftover jars from pasta sauce, but I can’t help it. They make awesome glasses (I make a mean mason jar margarita), I can also use them to store food, and if they break it’s no big deal. I’ll just make more alfredo or manicotti and voila, I’ll have another one once I clean it and remove the label. And if you think about it, ~400 yen for pasta sauce and a glass to use afterwards saves a lot of money. So without further ado, here is how you make a jar salad.

Step One: Dressing! I’m stepping away from bottled dressings, so I just put some form of acid (lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, soy, ponzu) with a form of oil (olive, avocado, sesame) and some flavorings (minced garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, herbs). Store bought dressing works too, I just tend to put a little less than when I make my own dressing. (Left is Italian from the store. Right is lemon with olive oil and salt and pepper)

Step Two: Hearty Vegetables! I always put my carrots in first, because instead of getting soggy from sitting, they kind of pickle in the dressing. I did a jar with peppercorn ranch in the bottom, and those carrots were probably the best carrots I’ve ever had.  After carrots I tend to do my pea pods or peppers because they are both hearty enough to hold up if the dressing touches them.

Step Three: Softer Vegetables!  This means tomatoes and cucumbers. I like the cherry tomatoes or the heirloom ones I can sometimes get. I tend to put my cucumbers above the tomatoes as they are less wet to be right up against the greens.

Step Four: Greens! I have a bag of baby greens that I buy, and I find that I use about one of the bigger bags to make four salads, but I PACK my greens in there. Since I’m shaking it out into a clean tupperware at work for lunch, I can pack a lot in there. If you’re going to eat straight out of the jar, don’t pack a lot or the dressing won’t coat it.

Step Five: Shake it or Store it! You should store it in the fridge, standing. As soon as the dressing touches the greens it will start to wilt. If you’re going to eat it, shake it and serve. I like to shake mine and then dump it out into a bowl or tupperware.

You can add anything to these, so experiment! I’ve added grains and pasta and chicken, usually above the softer vegetables. The only things that don’t keep so well are things like strawberries, avocados, cheese and hardboiled eggs. I usually will either cut up avocado at my desk, or I’ll put things like those in little baggies and add them to my salad at work.

Salad jars are a really simple way to make sure you’re eating healthy, and make mornings a little less hectic, especially for those who have to bring lunch to school. Plus it means less having to deal with glass jars in recycling, and I’m always on board with anything that allows me to avoid dealing with the Japanese garbage system.

By Abigail Clark

*This article was originally published on Toyama’s JET webzine, the Tram. You can find the original article and more here.