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Labor less on holiday with make ahead salad

For a year that feels like it’s been going on forever, how can it possibly be Labor Day already? Yet, here we are. I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately and this old recipe has been on my mind. So, I thought I’d share.

Here’s a crunchy and colorful classic from my 1970s childhood. This was a staple at potlucks, picnics and family gatherings. Some of you may have similar memories because it was hugely popular.

I’m going to pay a visit to the Seven Layer Salad. I hope a lot of you just smiled. It’s literally a simple salad with seven layers that you make ahead so the flavors can joyfully marry together. It’s delicious, it looks absolutely beautiful and happily feeds a crowd. This salad is perfect for Labor Day because it’s best made the day before so it’s one less thing to labor over on the holiday.

Traditionally, the seven layers are lettuce, tomatoes, peas, onions, dressing, cheese and bacon. I sincerely hope you make this as written at least once because it is surprisingly scrumptious. But just because it’s called seven-layer salad doesn’t mean you can’t take liberties and make an eight- or 12-layer salad.

This recipe technique is most forgiving and adaptable. Simply make layers with your favorite salad vegetables in quantities that please you. It’s also adaptable to make use of seasonal vegetables or combinations that complement the rest of your meal. For example, to accompany Taco Tuesday you could swap in layers of dark red kidney beans, olives, add some salsa to the dressing and top with crushed tortilla chips.

To teach the salad to speak Italian, add layers of minced Italian pickled vegetables (Giardiniera), roasted red peppers, thinly sliced pepperoni or salami and mozzarella cheese, and add Italian seasoning and minced garlic to the dressing.

Other intriguing ingredients you can add to this salad include hard-boiled egg, bell peppers, celery, diced turkey or ham, marinated artichoke hearts, diced zucchini, shredded carrot, Gorgonzola, blue or feta cheese, roasted red peppers, olives, blanched green beans and slivered almonds. The layers are limited only by your imagination.

This recipe is best prepared in a tall, glass trifle bowl to display the layers in all their colorful glory, but it can also be made in a 9-by-13 baking dish. The latter is actually more convenient when it comes to serving.

When you serve, you have to dig deep into the serving dish, so everyone gets a bit of everything on their plate.

Like most folks, I have strong memories associated with food. I hope this recipe brings back fond memories and lets you make new ones to cherish for generations to come.

SEVEN LAYER SALAD

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

What you’ll need:

½ to 1 cup bacon, cooked and crumbled

¾ cup mayonnaise

¾ cup sour cream

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

One head iceberg lettuce

2 cups tomatoes, chopped

2 cups (16 ounces) frozen peas, thawed

½ cup onion, purple or green, diced

4 ounces, roughly 1 cup, cheddar cheese, shredded

Here’s how:

Start by cooking the bacon until crisp and setting it aside to cool; refrigerate until ready to serve.

Next, mix the dressing so it has time for the flavor to develop. In a small bowl combine mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar and sugar. You’ll just have to trust me on this one. It’s perfection on this salad.

Start chopping and layering the rest of the ingredients. First iceberg, chopped, then the tomatoes, followed by the peas (don’t skip the peas; it really makes this salad what it is) and topped by onion.

Now completely cover the top of the whole thing with the dressing, making sure to spread it all the way to the sides to seal the edges. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least four hours or preferably overnight. The flavors get happier the longer it rests.

Before serving, sprinkle the cheese over the dressing and finish with a flourish of bacon. To serve, use a large spoon to dig deep to get some of every layer and plop it on the plate. There’s no need to toss the whole salad. In fact, please don’t toss this. It’s layered for a reason. Please don’t make me come to your house and separate your salad.

Diva tip: If you’re preparing this in a large trifle dish, mound the lettuce into a dome in the center so more of the colorful ingredients show on the sides.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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