In Defense of the Seven-Layer Salad

Since it's Potluck Week here in The Kitchn, I've been thinking a lot about portable foods. And whenever I think about a crowd-pleasing dish that's easy to make and easy to transport, I always come back to the Seven-Layer Salad.

The Seven-Layer Salad has a bad rep in some circles. I can understand, given that in some recipes the amount of mayo and sugar and bacon is way over the top, leading to a gloppy, overly sweet mess on your plate. But it doesn't have to be that way.

I wrote a Seven-Layer Salad post and recipe for The Kitchn a few years ago and a quick peek into our archives has revealed that, for me at least, not much has changed. I still love a good Seven-Layer Salad! The concept is simple: create a salad in individual layers, preferably in a glass bowl where the layers can be seen and admired. Then stretch some plastic wrap over the top and head on out to your potluck party!

There are as many versions of this salad as there are families who eat them and many are beloved recipes, passed down from generation to generation. I still make variations on the recipe I posted three years ago and my mother still makes the classic version of this salad as she has for almost 40 years. It is always a crowd-pleaser and I always return home from the party with an empty bowl.

Here's my original Seven-Layer Salad post and recipe from 2009.

A few notes:
• If you do not or cannot eat mayonnaise, try substituting some thick yogurt dressed up with a squeeze of lemon and maybe a few herbs such as dill or basil.

• Vegetarians can omit the bacon and vegans can omit all the animal products—egg based mayo, cheese and bacon. I've had some righteous vegan Seven-Layer Salads made with vegetables only subbing the mayo with a cashew nut cream or a homemade vegan mayo. People who like vegan substitutes such as Vegenaise and vegan cheese (I don't) can of course use those.

• Many old-time Seven-Layer Salads ask for a sprinkling of sugar over the mayonnaise, sometimes as much as 1/2 cup. I never do this and feel it is completely unnecessary. If you like a sweeter salad, go for sweet vegetables such as roasted beets or red pepper. You could even experiment with adding fruit such as diced apple (sprinkled over the mayo layer to minimize contact with the air) or strawberries or blueberries. That said, The Pioneer Woman does a very nice Layered Salad (pictured above) where she does use sugar in her mayo. She says that it doesn't taste sweet and adds a nice flavor dimension.

Related: Tailgating and Beyond: 10 Simple Dip Recipes

(Image: The Pioneer Woman)

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Dana Velden is a freelance food writer. She lives, eats, plays, and gets lost in Oakland, California where she is in the throes of raising her first tomato plant.

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