PARIS, Texas — Back in the days when peanut butter came in glass jars, my mom declared these the best of all savable jars because they were large, sturdy and reliable.
She used them for storing bacon grease and for orphan buttons. In the summertime, my dad filled jars with homegrown cucumbers from his garden with vinegar and dill, and used them for storing nails and screws in the garage, too. I don't think a jar was ever thrown out in our house.
Along with the family coffee addiction, I've also inherited the love of old jars.
I've always used them for making vinaigrettes and storing leftovers, from chopped garlic and olive oil to extra pizza sauce, but after seeing one composed salad after another at a trendy to-go lunch spots, each one of them featuring layers of veggies, or grains, or legumes, artfully stuffed into clear plastic cups, I thought about an even more economical and environmentally friendly way to do the same thing: with repurposed old jars. It seems so obvious, doesn't it? Instead of going out to buy that perfect ramekin or cute little dish to make that recipe of chocolate mousse or pudding or whatever, just use your old jam jars. I say jam jars because they're often fat and squatty, and therefore easy to eat out of, but any old wide-mouth jar will do (some salsa jars are actually great for this).
Besides the obvious money-saving appeal of using jars, they're cute ... especially the ones that I find at the flea markets in France. I like to think of it as recycling.
Lentil salad with smoked salmon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped into ¼-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic
1 stick celery, chopped into ¼-inch cubes
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into ¼-inch cubes
1 pound lentils (du Puy if you can find them; small green French lentils if you can't)
2 bay leaves
¼ cup tomato paste
1 quart vegetable stock
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups cooked quinoa
4 small handfuls arugula
6 ounces smoked salmon, chopped into small pieces
Put olive oil, onion and garlic in a large, deep pot, and turn the heat to medium-low. Let this cook until the onions become translucent, 5 to 10 minutes, then add celery. Let this cook, stirring every now and then, until celery begins to just soften slightly, about 5 minutes. Now toss in carrots. Let them cook for about 5 minutes, then add lentils, bay leaves, tomato paste and vegetable stock. You might need to add 2 to 4 cups of water at this point, to make sure you have 4 inches of liquid over the lentils. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Taste lentils for doneness and seasonings. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool and refrigerate. Makes 4 servings
To make your jarred salads, put 1 cup of lentils in the bottom of each of 4 (2-cup) jars, topped with 1 cup cooked quinoa. Now add a small handful of arugula and 11/2 ounces smoked salmon to each.
Nutrition information per serving: 721 calories, 15 g. fat, 105 g. carbohydrates, 58 g. protein, 10 mg. cholesterol, 543 mg. sodium, 39 g. dietary fiber
Crunchy, cheesy chipotle chicken
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chipotle chilies in adobo, finely chopped
4 cups shredded, cooked chicken (see note)
1 cup cooked black beans (if using canned, drain and rinse them first)
1 can (14.5 ounces) chopped tomatoes with juices
¼ teaspoon cumin
Pinch of sea salt and pepper
2 cups crushed tortilla chips
5 ounces mozzarella cheese
1 chopped avocado, for serving
Big handful fresh cilantro, chopped, for serving
1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving
Preheat oven to broil and put 6 (2-cup) jars on a cookie sheet.
Drizzle olive oil into a large skillet and add onion and garlic. Turn heat to medium-low and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chilies, chicken, black beans, tomatoes, cumin, and salt and pepper, and stir until warmed through. Taste for seasonings.
Put 1 cup of chicken mixture in each jar and top with about 2 tablespoons tortilla chips and just enough cheese to cover. Slide into oven and cook until cheese is bubbly, about 10 minutes. Serve right away, with chopped avocado and cilantro on top and lime on the side. Makes 6 servings.
Note: Use leftover chicken or store-bought rotisserie chicken to save time.
Nutrition information per serving: 598 calories, 32 g. fat, 55 g. carbohydrates, 27 g. protein, 54 mg. cholesterol, 651 mg. sodium, 8 g. dietary fiber.