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, for orphan buttons, and 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.
I’ve also inherited the love of old jars.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but my boyfriend and I probably go through at least one jar of jam every week or so (he always puts a few big spoonfuls in his yogurt), and I save them all.
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 some of Paris’ 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).
I now use them for all sorts of things, from making single (and portable) servings of cold salads, like lentil salad with smoked salmon, to stuffing them with plums, cauliflower or chicken (all recipes below) and warming them through, like the mini-casseroles they are.
Pick your jars depending on what you plan to do with them. If you’re using them for stuffing and traveling (jars are great for picnics or lunches), any old jar will do, but if you’re using them to cook in, make sure they’re heat-resistant, as canning jars will be.
CRUNCHY, CHEESY CHIPOTLE CHICKEN 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 chipotle chiles in adobo, finely chopped
4 cups shredded, cooked chicken (see Cowgirl tip)
1 cup cooked black beans (if using canned, drain and rinse them first)
1 (14.5-ounce) can chopped tomatoes with juices
1/4 teaspoon cumin
Pinch of sea salt and pepper
2 cups crushed tortilla chips (or Fritos if you’re not in Paris, where there are no such things)
5 ounces mozzarella cheese
1 chopped avocado, for serving
Big handful fresh cilantro, chopped, for serving
1 lime, cut into wedges, for serving
1. Preheat oven to broil and put six (2-cup) jars on a cookie sheet.
2. Drizzle olive oil into a large skillet and add onion and garlic. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook till the onion is translucent, about five minutes. Add the chiles, chicken, black beans, tomatoes, cumin, and salt and pepper, and stir till warmed through. Taste for seasonings.
3. Put 1 cup of the chicken mixture in each of the jars and top with about 2 tablespoons of the tortilla chips and just enough cheese to cover. Slide into the oven and cook till the cheese is bubbly, about 10 minutes. Serve right away, with chopped avocado and cilantro on top and lime on the side.
Cowgirl tip: Use leftover chicken or store-bought rotisserie chicken to save time.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 598 calories, 32 grams fat, 55 grams carbohydrates, 27 grams protein, 54 milligrams cholesterol, 651 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber, 47 percent of calories from fat. LENTIL SALAD WITH SMOKED SALMON 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped into 1/4-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic
1 stick celery, chopped into 1/4-inch cubes
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch cubes
1 pound lentils (du Puy if you can find them; small green French lentils if you can’t)
2 bay leaves
1/4 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
1. Make lentils: 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, 5-10 minutes, then add celery. Let this cook, stirring every now and then, until the celery begins to just slightly soften, about five minutes. Now toss in the carrot cubes. Let them cook for about five minutes, then add lentils, bay leaves, tomato paste and vegetable stock. You might need to add 2-4 cups of water at this point, to make sure you have four inches of liquid over the lentils. Cover, bring to a boil, and then reduce heat for 30 minutes-1 hour. Taste lentils for doneness and seasonings. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let cool and refrigerate.
2. To make your jarred salads, put 1 cup of lentils in the bottom of each of four (2-cup) jars, topped with 1 cup of cooked quinoa. Now add a small handful of arugula to each, and 1/4 serving of the smoked salmon (11/2 ounces for each one).
Nutritional analysis per serving: 721 calories, 15 grams fat, 105 grams carbohydrates, 58 grams protein, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 543 milligrams sodium, 39 grams dietary fiber, 17 percent of calories from fat.Makes 6 servings Makes 4 servings