I know it’s not back-to-school season for all of us, but boy does this time of year get me in the mood to pack up my lunchbox and head off to class! Don’t you remember that feeling of excitement, putting on your first-day-of-school outfit, hoppin’ on the bus and heading off to begin a new year filled with possibilities?
And I don’t know about you, but back in the day, lunch was a big deal. We were always negotiating trades (my pretzels for your orange juice?) and ogling over what everyone else had. The same is true today! Whether we’re at school, the office or our own kitchen table, what we eat for lunch has the power to set the tone for the rest of the day. It can boost our mood and re-energize us, or it can send us straight to mid-afternoon nap town.
But most of us don’t have the time, resources or motivation to pack something inspiring and healthy every day. So, we might settle for something so-so or eating out, which isn’t always the best thing for our bodies or our wallets. (To all of the parents and caregivers out there who prep lunches for their kids every day—I know you’re often short on time, so props to you for whatever you whip up! ?)
Enter the mason jar salad—aka, the best thing to happen to lunchtime since sliced bread. Not only are these babies uber-photogenic, they’re also fresh, tasty and crazy convenient! This week’s Test Kitchen Tuesday is a fabulous Banh Mi Mason Jar Salad that is going to take your lunch game to a whole new level.
This recipe is fun, flavorful and a cinch to put together. The Test Kitchen Tuesday team was inspired by banh mi (“bánh mì”), which is a sandwich from Vietnamese cuisine. Traditionally, this is not a plant-based meal, so we’ve put our own twist on it while still keeping some of the same flavors and ingredients!
And guess what? This mason jar salad is also loaded with fabulous-for-you ingredients. Tofu, pepitas (raw, shelled pumpkin seeds) and quinoa are all great sources of plant-based protein. The pepitas are also packed with zinc. Cucumber and romaine lettuce are both super hydrating, not to mention their delicious crispy crunch! The radishes and carrots provide plenty of potassium, fiber and vitamin K. And that’s just to name a few of the ingredients—this is one nutrient-dense meal.
Trust me—these mason jar salads are a lunch that you’ll actually be excited to eat. No more wishing you could replace your PB&J with greasy takeout. Plus, it’ll keep you full through the afternoon without feeling like you want to doze off mid-meeting. Ready to get cookin’? Press play below!
Banh Mi Mason Jar Salads
Makes: 4 servings
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas), soaked* and drained
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, tightly packed
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, tightly packed
1 scallion, trimmed and roughly chopped (white and light green parts only)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1 pitted date
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp coconut oil
1 (14 oz) package firm tofu, drained, pressed and cut into 1/2-in cubes
2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
2 scallions, thinly sliced
3 medium radishes, trimmed and julienned
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp coconut sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup diced seedless cucumber
3-4 cups romaine lettuce (may sub spinach), chopped
1 cup cooked quinoa (optional)
4 (16 oz) wide mouth mason jars
1. To make dressing, place all dressing ingredients in a high speed blender and blend on high until smooth, about 1-2 minutes.
2. Heat coconut oil in a large nonstick pan over medium high heat. Add tofu and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 10 minutes, or until golden on most sides. Remove from heat and season to taste with a pinch of salt.
3. While tofu cooks, place carrots, scallions and radishes in a bowl. Add rice vinegar, coconut sugar and salt and toss to combine. Let sit for a minimum of 15 minutes.
4. To assemble mason jar salads, place between 2-3 Tbsp of dressing at the bottom of the mason jar. Layer in 1/4 cup of cooked quinoa (if using), 1/2 cup of carrot/radish mixture, 1/4 cup of diced cucumber and 1/4 of the cooked tofu. Top with 3/4 – 1 cup of chopped lettuce and attach lid. Repeat with remaining ingredients and jars to make 4 complete mason jar salads.
5. When you’re ready to eat, give the jar a good shake to distribute the dressing!
The mason jar salads will stay fresh in the fridge for up to 5 days, making them the perfect meal prep option!
If you have a high-speed blender, you can skip soaking the pepitas. If you don’t have a high-speed blender, you can either soak them for 4 hours, or you can do a “quick soak” by covering them with water in a pot and bringing it to a boil. Once the water boils, remove them from the heat and let them sit for an hour.