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How about salad in a jar?

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It's time to pull those boxes of old canning jars out of storage. I'm suggesting this not just because it is the season for pickling asparagus, making jams of fresh berries and rosy rhubarb, and canning fresh produce. These days there are many more uses for those sturdy glass Mason jars.

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When I was visiting a farmers market in Arizona last winter, a baker was selling single servings of cheesecake that were baked in small canning jars and topped with berry sauce before getting sealed up tight. Last year at this time, I was baking rhubarb crisp in shallow jelly jars and layering rhubarb sauce with cake crumbles and cream in half-pint jars to create individual desserts.

When I attended a beekeeping class a couple of weeks ago, I had to smile when a young boy sitting near me pulled a pint-size Mason jar filled with water from a sack he brought from home, unscrewed the top and took a big gulp.

Mason jars (or any empty glass jar - and I have many!) are a natural when it comes to reusing and renewing. Once these jars are within easy reach, you'll more than likely discover all kinds of ways to put them to use.

I recently learned that a Mason jar is the perfect container for a layered salad. I love eating salads this time of year when fresh produce is available at farmers markets and CSA (community-supported agriculture) boxes are brimming over with fresh greens. The problem I have is that when I'm ready to eat a salad, I'm not necessarily in the mood or have the time to clean, scrape, spin and chop salad fixings.

When I accidentally landed on the idea of salad in jars on the Internet one day, I was intrigued. I headed down to the basement and pulled out some quart-size jars from my helter-skelter collection in a large plastic tub.

After thoroughly washing and drying the jars, I prepared enough vegetables to pack four jars with meal-sized salads. If you're going to clean, peel, spin and chop, you may as well do a bunch.

When attention is given to how the ingredients are layered into the jar, a salad can be crisp, crunchy and fresh even after a few days in the refrigerator. I chose to put shelled and cooked edamame in the bottom of each jar to soak up the flavor of my Asian-inspired dressing. Onion slices went into the jar next. If they did wind up in the dressing, they wouldn't get mushy and would only add flavor to the soy sauce and sesame oil mixture. Next, I layered hardy vegetables - thinly sliced red cabbage and grated carrots. After that, I added a layer of sweet and juicy grape tomatoes that I had cut into quarters. Finally, I packed a generous amount of fresh baby spinach leaves into the jar. A sprinkle of sesame seeds, some fresh cilantro leaves and a small handful of peanuts topped the layers of vegetables before I screwed the tops tightly onto the jars and put them in the refrigerator.

At suppertime, two jars of Cool Veggie Bliss got dumped into pasta bowls. The dressing glazed the ingredients as they tumbled out of the jar. A light tossing with a fork guaranteed the salad was well mixed and well dressed. It was a satisfying meal complete with bright colors, plenty of crunch and wonderful flavor.

Jars of Cool Veggie Bliss can be toted to picnics in a cooler and stuffed into insulated bags for lunch at the office. The whole family will have fun tipping their own jar into a bowl at home. And why not do some family brainstorming over your salad meal to come up with ideas for salad layers suited to everyone's liking?

Salad in a jar, any way you build it, makes it easy to eat a healthful meal anytime. It makes good use of a Mason jar, too.

Cool Veggie Bliss in a Jar

1 (12-ounce) bag frozen shelled edamame

1/4 cup sesame oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari

1 teaspoon chili garlic sauce

Red onion or scallions, sliced thin or chopped

Red cabbage, thinly sliced

Carrots, grated

Cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

Fresh baby spinach leaves, (5-8 ounces)

Sesame seeds

Fresh cilantro leaves

Peanuts, roasted and salted

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add edamame and boil for 3 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and allow to sit for 2 minutes. Drain edamame and set aside.

In a small bowl, make dressing by whisking sesame oil with rice vinegar, soy sauce and chili garlic sauce until well blended.

Pour about 2 tablespoons dressing in bottom of each of 4 (32-ounce) jars. Add 1/2 cup cooked edamame to each jar. Layer remaining ingredients into jar in order listed. Screw lids on jars. Refrigerate.

When it's time to eat, dump salad jar into a shallow bowl or a plate. Makes 4 (1 quart) jars of salad.

Tips from the cook

--Light-colored nutty-flavored sesame oil or more pungently flavored dark toasted sesame oil can be used to make the dressing. I use the toasted sesame oil.

--Chili Garlic Sauce can be added to stir-fry dishes, marinades for chicken and pork, soups, sauces and scrambled eggs. Mix a little into your sandwich spread to spice up your lunch. If you're still not convinced you should buy a jar of chili garlic sauce, substitute a dash of hot pepper sauce or whisk some dried red pepper flakes and minced garlic into the dressing.

--For smaller salads, use one-pint jars.

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