I’m a sucker for anything I can pack into a mason jar and this red pepper pesto pasta salad is no exception. By keeping the ingredients in separate layers, you can ensure their freshness! The vegan red pepper pesto is an easy breezy take on pesto, and just happens to be packed with pantry staples. Make it for lunch this week and your future self will thank you!
How to make a mason jar salad
Mason jar salads are great for their portability (hello picnic season!) and ability to layer ingredients for optimum freshness. There is a method to the madness though. Follow this simple formula and you’ll nail it every time.
- Start with the sauce in the bottom. Not only does this keep it from getting the most tender ingredients from soggy, but when you dump it all out into a bowl, the sauce will conveniently end up on top.
- Layer in your sturdiest and least absorbent ingredient. In this case it’s the pasta. Depending on what you’re making, it would likely hard veggies like onions, bell peppers, or carrots.
- Next up are the soft veggies, like the cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives in this recipe. It can also include beans, squash, corn, or sweet potatoes to name a few.
- Then it’s time for your grains or proteins. Think: brown rice, barley quinoa, shredded chicken, bacon bits….
- In this recipe I didn’t include anything too fragile, like fresh berries, but if you did this is where they would go.
- Last up, any tender fresh greens and herbs will fill up the remainder of the jar to keep from getting crushed. It will seem like you’re barely putting a dent in your jar until you realize how much space the greens take up!
Meal prepping your red pepper pasta salad
Now, normally I’m not a fan of making pasta ahead of time when it comes to meal prep. But I happily make an exception when it comes to a pasta salad for lunch. The prime reason being that it will be served cold so you don’t run the risk of the pasta becoming mushy when you reheat.
I use a sturdy pasta like fusilli, rotini, or rigatoni since it won’t fall apart. As an added bonus, the delicious red pepper pesto will nestle into every nook and cranny. In this recipe I opted for the briny Mediterranean flavors of kalamata olives and feta cheese, punctuated by sweet and juicy cherry tomatoes that I always have on hand.
For greens, I LOVE these baby kale leaves. I tend to reach for arugula 9 times out of 10, but when I see baby kale at the store I can’t pass it up. The leaves are much more tender and less bitter than a lacinato or curly kale, but still hearty enough to hold up to meal prep.
Mason jars are great for meal prep because they don’t take up much space in the refrigerator, and you can easily set up a little assembly line to add your ingredients. Now, I know I preach that I don’t like to eat the same lunch every day of the week… Instead I’ll switch it up by eating it with chicken one day, garbanzo beans the next, and maybe mix in some grilled eggplant and zucchini the next before calling it good.
Other mason jar salad recipe ideas
One peak at Pinterest will show you that the sky is the limit when it comes to what you can prep into mason jars. Here are some of my favorites from some inspiring food bloggers:
- Mason Jar Instant Noodle Soup-my mind was seriously blown when I came across this recipe!
- Black Bean and Quinoa Salad-I would be super excited to eat this for lunch.
- Apple Feta Pecan Salad-Once fall rolls around, this will be in my regular rotation
- Balsamic Chicken Berry Salad-Berries? Chicken? Balsamic? I’m sold!
Mason Jar Red Pepper Pesto Salad
- food processor or blender
- 3 cups dried fusilli pasta
- 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
- 1 cup pitted kalamata olives
- 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
- 4 cups baby kale or other salad greens
Red Pepper Pesto
- 1 cup roasted red peppers, drained
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
- 4 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 whole lemon, zested and juiced
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt water generously and add 3 cups of dried fusilli pasta. Cook til al dente, approximately 8 minutes, and drain. Rinse with cold water to cool pasta.
- In the meantime, cut cherry tomatoes in half and make red pepper pesto.
- In each mason jar or container, layer 1/4 cup of red pepper pesto, 1 cup of cooked pasta, 1/4 cup each cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, and crumbled feta cheese and top with 1 cup loosely packed baby kale or other salad greens. Top with additional sunflower seeds if preferred. Seal tightly.
Red Pepper Pesto
- Combine roasted peppers, basil, whole garlic, sunflower seeds, tomato paste, lemon juice and zest, smoked paprika, sherry vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt in food processor. Pulse until combined.
- With the motor running, drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil until well combined and smooth. You may need a little more or less depending on how *juicy* the red peppers are.
- I’ve found the best success with whole roasted red peppers in a glass jar as opposed to diced peppers.
- If you don’t have fresh basil on hand, parsley makes an excellent substitution!
- I used sunflower seeds which are an inexpensive pantry staple, but toasted pine nuts, hazelnuts, and walnuts also taste great if you have them on hand.
- These jars will keep in your fridge for 4-5 days.
- Extra red pepper pesto will keep in fridge for 7 days.