Julia Mirabella offers ideas for mason jar salads and more

Greek Salad With Chickpeas works well in a jar.
Greek Salad With Chickpeas works well in a jar. (JULIA MIRABELLA)
Posted: July 25, 2014

The humble mason jar has become the symbol of DIY culture, Pinterest aspiration, and nostalgia for homespun days of yore. Invented in Philadelphia in 1858 and revived by neo-food preservationists and Martha Stewart wedding pictorials circa the early aughts, the old-timey glass with the tin lid has become the go-to restaurant vessel for cocktails, single-serve cakes, and plain old tap water. Mason jars just seem to make everything look simple - in a good way.

It's not only a matter of aesthetics, though. "Mason jars keep fresh food fresh and we're all looking for ways to eat healthier," says Julia Mirabella, author of Mason Jar Salads and More (Ulysses, 2014).

Mirabella, a D.C.-based attorney and food blogger, discovered the beauty of her titular subject last year when she started working in an office building surrounded by fast-food options (she was then based in Louisville, Ky). When she stumbled on the idea on another blog, salads in a jar seemed like a revelation - and a way to use up all the produce she'd picked up at the previous week's farmer's market.

"I'm very busy with my job and I don't have time to wash and prep my vegetables every morning, but I still want a healthy option with portion control. This turned out to be a great solution that gets me through the week," she says.

It's an idea that's catching on widely. A Chicago-based company called Farmer's Fridge has introduced refrigerated vending kiosks that sell locally sourced and organic salads layered in wide-mouthed plastic jars.

The growing canon of mason jar salads online includes ingredients of the moment like spiralized zucchini, quinoa, raw kale, and Greek yogurt vinaigrette, but any classic salad recipes - Caesar, Cobb, blue cheese and pear - can be structured to fit the bill.

The recipes have a simple framework. Dressing is spooned into the jar first, with a hardy ingredient such as carrots, cherry tomatoes, or snap peas placed immediately over it. From there, the rest of the salad fixings are layered, starting with any beans or grains, then softer vegetables and fruits, then the greens closest to the top - and then, perhaps, a sprinkling of nuts or cheese. For best results, the salad should be tightly packed. Proteins such as hard-cooked egg, tuna, or chicken should be added just before eating.

The colorful, striated effect of the composed jars is visually appealing, but most important, the salad retains its mix of textures, for days at a time. Mirabella makes a week's worth on the weekend, and keeps the jars in her refrigerator for a grab-and-go lunch. The whole salad can be spilled into a bowl and tossed together at lunchtime.

Mirabella's Greek Salad With Chickpeas combines the traditional cucumber, olives, tomato, feta cheese, and red onion with a lemon vinaigrette, chickpeas, and a sprinkling of parsley. Layered onto her Beet and Carrot Salad are a pillow of baby spinach, crumbles of goat cheese, and pistachios.

Mirabella's book also outlines simple breakfasts, pasta dishes, and stir-fries to round out the raw dishes. The glass containers holding these heartier options can be popped into the microwave for a warm-up before eating.

Of course, in the midst of mason mania, there are plenty of other culinary applications for jars. Opened this year in the Graduate Hospital neighborhood, the Baker's Jar specializes in desserts baked in glass: tres leches, brownies, cupcakes, bread pudding, and layer cakes. "A friend of mine sent me one of those blogs that showed people baking in canning jars and a lightbulb went off," says owner Avery Goldman. "I now think everything should be in jars. It's a nice single portion; it's recyclable; it looks good. In the bakery it's an interactive experience where the customer can pick up a dessert and look at it before buying it."

The Internet is teeming with recipes for sweet jars. Pots de crèmes, fruit crisps, cheesecakes, parfaits, s'mores. Anything with sugar that can be put in a jar, it seems, has been. At Barbuzzo the uber-popular salted caramel budino is served in a jar; Cookie Confidential offers the Undercover Cupcake in a jar; and Nineteen at the Hyatt at the Bellevue features Mason Jar Cheesecake.

Enthusiasm for the topic shows no signs of slowing. Mirabella's friends and family are constantly sharing their own recipes with her on Facebook. She's now bringing jars of foods to friends who are new moms, jars of coffee to work.

She admits that mason jars have found their way into other areas of her life, serving as containers for bobby pins, kitchen utensils, and makeup brushes.

Mirabella was recently contacted by the Ball company, makers of the mason jar, for a feature on its website - a coup for the longtime customer. "What can I say? I love jars. They're just incredibly useful."

Beet and Carrot Salad

Makes one serving

For salad:

3 tablespoons red wine vinaigrette (see below)

½ cup julienne-cut carrots, about 1 medium carrot

½ to ¾ cup cubed cooked beets

2 cups spinach leaves

1 ounce crumbled goat cheese

¼ cup shelled pistachios

1 pint-size mason jar

For red wine vinaigrette (makes 5 tablespoons):

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ tablespoon minced shallot

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1. Make the dressing: Whisk together the vinegar, shallot, salt, and pepper. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking, until the dressing thickens.

2. Pour the dressing into the bottom of the mason jar. Add the carrots and then layer on the beets, spinach, and goat cheese. Top with ¼ cup pistachios. Seal the jar and refrigerate until ready to eat.

- From Mason Jar Salads by Julia Mirabella (Ulysses Press)

Per serving : 491 calories; 15 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams sugar; 40 grams fat; 30 milligrams cholesterol; 324 milligrams sodium; 7 grams dietary fiber.

Greek Salad With Chickpeas

Makes 1 serving

For the salad:

2 tablespoons lemon vinaigrette (see below)

1/3 cup chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1/3 cup halved cherry tomatoes

1/3 cup quartered cucumber slices

2 tablespoons diced red onion

2 tablespoons pitted black olives, halved

1 ounce crumbled feta cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1 pint-size mason jar

For the lemon vinaigrette - yields 5 tablespoons

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1.   Make the dressing: Whisk together the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking, until the dressing thickens.

2.   Place the vinaigrette in the mason jar and add the chickpeas. Next add layers of cherry tomatoes, cucumber, onion, olives, feta cheese, parsley. Seal and refrigerate until you're ready to eat the salad.

- From Mason Jar Salads by Julia Mirabella

Per serving: 546 calories; 18 grams protein; 48 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams sugar; 32 grams fat; 25 milligrams cholesterol; 480 milligrams sodium; 13 grams dietary fiber.

Strawberry-Blueberry Crisp in a Jar

Makes 4 servings

2 cups fresh blueberries (about 11 ounces)

2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and quartered (about 11 ounces)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup slivered almonds (about 11/2 ounces), finely chopped

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/8 teaspoon fine salt

3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

1.   Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. and arrange a rack in the middle. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil; set aside.

2.   Combine the blueberries, strawberries, granulated sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vanilla in a large bowl and toss to coat the berries; set aside.

3.   Whisk the almonds, flour, brown sugar, and salt in a large bowl until evenly combined. Using your hands, blend the butter pieces thoroughly into the dry ingredients until you can form the mixture into a single ball, about 2 minutes. Divide the ball into 4 equal pieces and form the pieces into patties about 21/2 inches wide; set aside.

4.   Stir the berry mixture to redistribute the juices, then divide it among 4 jars. Place 1 almond-butter patty on top of the berries in each jar, pressing gently to compact the berries.

5.   Evenly space the jars on the prepared baking sheet and bake until the topping is dark golden brown and crispy and the liquid is bubbling around the edges of the jar, about 30 minutes. Let cool on a rack at least 30 minutes before serving. If not serving right away, let the crisps cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

- From Chow.com

Per serving: 321 calories; 4 grams protein; 51 grams carbohydrates; 33 grams sugar; 13 grams fat; 23 milligrams cholesterol; 140 milligrams sodium; 5 grams dietary fiber.

Spinach, Radish, and Quinoa Salad

Makes 1 serving

For the salad:  

1/4 cup uncooked quinoa

1/2 cup water

2 to 3 tablespoons blueberry vinaigrette (see recipe below)

1/3 cup cucumber chunks

1/3 cup vine-ripened tomatoes

1/3 cup fresh peas

1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes

2 cups spinach leaves

1 quart-size mason jar

For blueberry vinaigrette:

3 tablespoons fresh blueberries

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon honey

Pinch of salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil

1. Rinse the quinoa thoroughly under running water. Place in a small saucepan with the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes, until the water has been absorbed. Let the quinoa cool before adding it to the salad.

2. Layer the ingredients in the mason jar, starting with the vinaigrette dressing and continuing with the cucumbers, tomatoes, peas, and radishes. Add the cooled quinoa, and finish with the spinach greens. Seal and refrigerate until ready to use.

                  - From Mason Jar Salads (Ulysses Press)

Per serving: 368 calories; 7 grams protein; 40 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams sugar; 19 grams fat; no cholesterol; 84 milligrams sodium; 8 grams dietary fiber.

comments powered by Disqus