Friday, May 30, 2014

Spoon Salad ... AKA Salad in a jar

What would you do with yogurt, tofu, and some Ball canning jars?


To celebrate Salad Month (May) I put decided to have some fun. Earlier, I had worked on an article about picnicking, but at the time I couldn't figure out a really sane way to pack and carry a interesting green salad. I mean, if it's a potluck, you haul the big bowl and salad tongs, but if it's a picnic for two, green salad usually ends up being green cole slaw.

After the article was done, I pondered the preponderance of cole slaws, pasta salads, and potato salads at picnics, and the lack of leafy green things. And then it hit me.

No, not a head of lettuce. The idea.

Green salads aren't always that easy to eat. You get these big floppy bits of lettuce that sometimes need a knife to wrangle. And putting the salad on a plate alongside the chicken and the chips is just ... not convenient.

In my picnic article, I suggested packing the cole slaw into individual-serving-sized containers. So what about doing that with the salad? And then making sure that all the pieces are small enough to be spoonable, forkable, or otherwise easily edible.

Packing was another problem. A dressed salad would likely wilt. Layering made sense, for two reasons. So that's what I did.

Salad in a Jar

For the dressing:
1/2 cup Stonyfield Organic Yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon chive
1 teaspoon dry dill
1 teaspoon sweet pickle relish
Pinch of garlic powder
Celery salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
For the topping:
1 package Nasoya Black Bean tofu
2 tablespoons soy sauce*
For the salad:
(per individual pint-sized salad)
1 radish, diced
1/2 small zucchini, diced,
Cherry or small plum tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 small cucumber, peeled or diced
Lettuce, cut in easily-edible pieces, to fill jar

To make the dressing:
Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a small jar with a lid and shake well until combined. You can also whisk this is a bowl - whatever works for you. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, or lemon, as desired. If you want more garlic flavor, add a pinch or two more, but I wanted the barest hint of flavor rather than a garlic-heavy dressing. Refrigerate until needed.

While this dressing is perfectly fine right after mixing, I liked it better after it had time to let the herbs infuse the dressing and for the flavors to mingle. Right after mixing, it was easier to pick out individual flavors, but the next day, the flavors had combined much more.

To make the tofu:
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Wrap the tofu brick (or whatever it's called) in paper towels and put it on a rimmed baking sheet or rimmed dish. Place a weight on top of it. I used a cutting board with a 4-pack of root beer on top, but I'm sure you can figure out something. Let this sit for at least 30 minutes. Make sure your weight is sitting straight. Mine started tilting, so I had to make some adjustments to get it even.

The tofu will exude liquid, so drain this off and change the paper towels a couple times during the pressing.

After the tofu has been suitably squished, cut it into cubes (about 1/2 inch is good) and toss it with the soy sauce in a bowl. Let it sit for a few minutes so all the soy is absorbed.

Put the tofu cubes on a baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. They'll brown and form sort of a crust. Transfer to a storage container, let them cool, and refrigerate.

The tofu is tasty when it's warm, and you could use it that way on a salad at home. But for travel, it makes more sense to chill the tofu for the trip.

To assemble the salad:
Give the salad dressing a shake to make sure the herbs are well distributed, then pour your desired amount into a 1-pint canning jar. Add the radishes. Letting them sit in the dressing will help mute some of the radish "bite" but the texture of the radishes won't be affected.

Next, add the zucchini. They won't mind getting their feet wet in the dressing,

Next, add the tomatoes. The red color between the green layers will look appealing. And, since tomatoes are wet, you're likely to get some moisture dripping out of them. The zucchini and radishes won't mind.

Now comes the cucumbers. They're still a little wet, but not as much as the tomatoes. Still, we don't want them on top of the lettuce.

Finally, fill the jar with lettuce - as much or as little as you like. And, we're done.

Carry the tofu separately, to use as a topping on the salad.

To serve:
There are two options for salad plating. You can shake the heck out of the jar and eat directly from the jar to distribute the dressing, which would be fun at a sitting-on-the-ground sort of casual picnic. Add tofu cubes, as desired.

Or, you could up-end the jar onto a plate and the lettuce will form the bottom layer, with the well-marinated radishes on top. If you let the jar sit up-side down on a plate for just a few second before lifting it to release ingredients, the dressing will coat some of the lettuce and you'll end up with a well-dressed salad.
Then add the tofu cubes.

Shredded carrots, cheese cubes, sunflower seeds, or any other salad ingredients would be welcome in the jar. As far as layering order, keep the lettuce above anything wet or drippy, and use that same strategy for other ingredients. Which ones won't affect the ones below?

And, like the tofu, you can leave some out of the jar and add them separately, too.

What's in your salad?

*I had planned on using ponzu, which has citrus, but bottle that I thought was ponzu was actually shoyu, which doesn't have citrus. I thought about adding some lemon, but then nixed the idea and went with straight shoyu. Confused? Just use soy.

This post is sponsored by Stonyfield, Nasoya, and Ball who provided products for me to work with. The recipe and opinions are my own.