A Month of Side Dishes: Perfect Vegan, Gluten-Free Seven Layer Salad
December is BlogHer's Month of Side Dishes, and we want you to share your favorite side! Click here to see how to play along. And check out all the sides we're craving in the Month of Side Dishes series.
I love salads. I eat them nearly every day. And the Grand Poobah of salads for me has been the Seven Layer Salad. My mom makes this for Thanksgiving every year. And it was something I always looked forward to with great anticipation.
Until I became vegan. If you're not familiar with the Seven Layer Salad it begins with a layer of lettuce, followed by green onions, frozen peas, boiled eggs, bacon bits, cheddar cheese, and topped with my mom's secret mayo dressing. That's a lot of layers vegans cannot eat. Remove the eggs, cheese, and mayo dressing, and you're left with a 4-layer salad. Nothing to get excited about.
I resigned myself to a life without this succulent salad. That is, until this week when I was touched with inspiration to try making a vegan (and healthier) version.
I began the salad with spinach, a healthier base than the iceberg lettuce my mom uses. I fried some tofu in seasonings to replace the boiled eggs, used shredded vegan cheese, and created my own magical dairy-free mayo dressing.
I call this the Perfect Seven Layer Salad because not only is it scrumptious, it's also much healthier than the other version.
We'll be making this salad for our holiday dinners. I hope you will too!
Perfect Seven Layer Salad
1 package extra firm tofu, drained (confused about tofu? check out this tofu buying guide)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash garlic & herb seasoning
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
Spinach, washed, patted dried, & stems removed
6 - 10 stalks green onions, washed and sliced
1 10 oz bag frozen peas
½ cup bacon bits, (I used Bacos because they are vegan)
1 8 oz package Daiya Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1 16 oz. container Vegenaise
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
3 tablespoons agave nectar, (or maple syrup)
½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper, (freshly cracked is best)
Begin your salad by washing and patting dry all ingredients as needed and set aside.
Next, remove the tofu from it's container and drain it of all liquid. Fold two paper towels until they're just about the same size as the tofu cube and put folded paper towel on each side of the tofu - one on the bottom, and one on the top. Place this on a plate and either press down on it yourself or find something with a little bit of weight to place on top to help press extra fluid from the tofu.
Once the tofu is ready, tear it into small pieces (about the size of diced boiled eggs) and place pieces in a small skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook over medium heat for about 1 minute. Add Mrs. Dash, nutritional yeast flakes, turmeric and salt and stir until the tofu is well coated. Tofu takes on the flavors of the food around it so the goal here is to help the tofu become infused with the seasoning flavors. We're also trying to cook out some of the liquid. I cooked the tofu over medium heat for about 10 - 12 minutes, occasionally stirring to keep the seasonings mixed and to prevent the tofu from browning. Once it's done, turn the heat off and set the tofu pieces aside so it can cool. I had a hungry family waiting for dinner so I place the cooked tofu in a bowl and set it in the fridge to cool while I fixed the rest of the salad.
Get out the container you intend to use to serve the salad. I used a Pyrex 3.2 quart container. Tear spinach into pieces; spinach can be a little cumbersome to eat otherwise. Fill the container with spinach until it is about 1/2 full. The majority of this salad will be the spinach, but the remaining toppings will make it all worthwhile.
Next get out the green onions Remove tops, and slice the rest; I use as much of the green onions as I can with this recipe. Spread the sliced green onions evenly over the spinach. Two layers down, five to go!
Spread the frozen peas on top of the green onions. I use the entire bag so the frozen peas layer is thick enough to create a barrier between the spinach and the topping. This prevents the greens from getting soggy. That means if you're lucky enough to have any leftovers, the salad will still taste great the next day.
Evenly spread the cooled tofu pieces on top of the frozen peas. Next sprinkle the tofu with bacon bits. My mom uses a lot of bacon bits, but I just do a small sprinkling because I think their flavor can be overwhelming. I like a bit of that smoky taste, but not too much. You can choose what works best for you.
The next layer is the shredded vegan cheddar cheese. I used Daiya Cheddar, but you can also use Follow Your Heart cheddar cheese here. I can find these in the health food section of my local grocery store, but they're also typically available at most health food stores. Cover the salad with the package of shredded cheese, leaving a little left over to sprinkle on top.
Finally, it's time to make the secret Magical Mayo dressing. Add the contents of the 16 oz Vegenaise (dairy-free) jar of mayo, garlic powder, onion powder, and agave nectar in a small bowl and stir until well combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can add this dressing to the salad right away if you're ready to serve dinner or you can place the salad without dressing in the fridge and add the dressing immediately before serving.
I topped the salad with a little bit of the remaining cheddar cheese for decoration.
If you'd like to read more about the benefits of a vegetarian diet, please check out my post, How to Become a Vegetarian.
I hope you enjoy this salad as much as we did!