Obviously, not all meals lend themselves to on-the-go feasting (sorry, avocado toast—we love you, but you’re kind of a mess). That’s why food writer and stylist Jeanne Kelley wrote a new cookbook, The Portable Feast, that’s full of meals made to travel—from salads that won’t go soggy to flavorful, Tupperware-friendly grain bowls.
“No matter where I am, I love eating a meal prepared with care from the freshest possible ingredients,” writes Kelley, who packs fresh meals regardless of whether she’s eating in the park or on an airplane. “The best best-for-you (and your wallet) meal is usually the one you make yourself.”
So what’s the secret to a meal that packs well (and won’t spill all over your $200 leggings)? For Kelley, one key is the container—she recommends stainless steel or glass, because who wants to lose any precious homemade dressing to leakage?—and the other is a killer blend of perfectly combined ingredients.
In the spirit of picnic season, enjoy three of Jeanne Kelley’s favorite layered salad recipes. The Pinterest-worthy presentation, however, is totally up to you.
Layered apple, wild rice, and chicken salad with blue cheese
“Layering salads in jars is a nifty thing,” says Kelley. “The bulky items sit at the bottom of the jar, getting extra flavor from the dressing, and the greens stay fresh and the nuts crunchy at the top. At mealtime, simply invert the contents into a bowl and enjoy.”
1/2 cup wild rice
1/4 cup walnut oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1 apple, cored and diced
2 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
6 ounces of shredded cooked chicken (from about 1 breast piece)
1/4 cup raisins
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley (optional)
2 cups greens, such as baby spinach and arugula
1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1 ounce crumbled blue cheese
1. Cook the wild rice in a medium saucepan of salted, boiling water until tender, about 35 minutes. Drain the wild rice and cool completely.
2. Whisk the walnut oil, vinegar, honey, mustard, and salt to blend in a small bowl for the dressing.
3. Divide the apples between two jars. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the dressing over the apples, dividing evenly, and shake the jars around to coat the apples. Top the apples with the celery.
4. Toss the chicken with 1 tablespoon of dressing to coat in a medium bowl. Divide the chicken between the jars. Sprinkle the raisins over the chicken.
5. Combine the rice, parsley, if using, and 2 tablespoons dressing in the same medium bowl and stir well. Season the rice to taste with salt and pepper. Drizzle any remaining dressing evenly over the chicken in the jars.
6. Divide the rice mixture between the jars. Fill the jars with the greens. Sprinkle the walnuts and cheese atop the greens, dividing them evenly. Seal the jars. (Salads can be made up to 2 days ahead; refrigerate.)
7. To serve, empty the jar into a large bowl and toss everything together.
Tuna and white bean salad with greens, Lucques olives, and preserved lemon
Pro tip from Kelley: “If you squeeze fresh lemon over this salad just before eating, it will taste like you just whipped it up in the kitchen—even if you made it the night before and are dining al desko.”
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 (4- or 5-ounce) can albacore tuna packed in olive oil, drained
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 Persian cucumbers, sliced
1 large green onion, trimmed and sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley (optional)
16 Lucques or other brine-cured green olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons chopped preserved lemon
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup coarsely chopped greens, such as arugula, mizuna, or romaine
1 lemon, cut in half, for garnish
1. In a medium bowl, combine the beans, tuna, bell pepper, cucumber, green onion, basil,dill, parsley, olives, preserved lemon, lemon juice, and olive oil and stir to blend.
2. Divide the salad between bowls or jars with lids for transport. (Can be prepared up to 2 days ahead; cover and refrigerate.)
3. Divide the greens evenly among the bowls or jars, placing them at one side or on top of the tuna salad. Season the salads with coarsely ground pepper. Garnish each portion with one half of a lemon, cover and refrigerate, and enjoy within 6 hours.
“Homemade preserved lemons are so much better than store-bought and so easy to prepare,” says Kelley. “Simply cut 3 to 4 lemons into 4 wedges and nestle them in 2 (8-ounce) jars, sprinkling well with sea or kosher salt (about 2 tablespoons per jar) between each wedge. Press down gently on the lemons to level. Top each jar with a 1/2-inch layer of extra virgin olive oil and seal tightly. Refrigerate for at least a week before using. The lemons will keep for a year.”
Layered chopped Greek salad with herbed bulgur
“There is a reason Greek salad is so popular—it’s so good!” Kelley raves. “I add a little bulgur to this one to give it staying power. It’s like a tasty cross between Greek salad and tabouli.”
1 cup water
1/2 cup bulgur
1/4 teaspoon plus a pinch of fine sea salt
2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
1 clove garlic, crushed in a garlic press
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup assorted small and cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 Persian cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
10 pitted Kalamata olives, cut in half
2 ounces feta cheese, cut into cubes
3 cups thickly sliced romaine lettuce (from about 1 small head)
1. Bring the water, bulgur, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a heavy small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until holes appear on the surface of the grain, about 8 minutes. Cover, remove from the heat, and let stand until all the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.
2. Transfer the bulgur to a medium bowl and fluff with a fork. Cool completely. Mix in the parsley, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
3. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil, the vinegar, oregano, garlic, crushed red pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to blend for the dressing.
4. Divide the tomatoes, cucumbers, red bell pepper, onion, and olives between two large jars. Pour the dressing over the vegetables in the jars, dividing it evenly.
5. Spoon the bulgur over the vegetables and top with the feta. Divide the romaine between the jars and seal. (Salads can be made up to 2 days ahead; refrigerate.)
6. To serve, empty the jar into a large bowl and toss everything together.
© The Portable Feast: Creative Meals for Work and Play by Jeanne Kelley, Rizzoli New York, 2016. Images from The Portable Feast: Creative Meals for Work and Play © Ann Cutting. Neither text nor images may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.