I’ve been intrigued by this salad for years but too hesitant to actually break down and make it. Finally last Thanksgiving, I decided to give it a try. I must say I was pleasantly surprised. It turned out to be not only quite tasty but easy to put together and a perfect make-ahead salad. What sets 24 Hour Salad apart from other make-ahead salads is that it is lettuce based. Usually lettuce salads do not keep well, but the way this salad is composed takes care of that problem.
The lettuce portion is placed on the bottom of a bowl. The other salad ingredients are layered on top of the lettuce, and the whole thing is covered with a thick mayonnaise-based dressing layer. The mayo topping provides an "air-tight" seal that prevents the vegetables underneath from getting soggy. Believe it or not, the lettuce stays crispy sitting overnight at the bottom of the bowl underneath all the other ingredients. That’s why it can successfully be made ahead.
You can find all kinds of versions and recipes online. Sometimes it’s called “Deep Dish Layered Salad” or “Seven (or Eight) Layer Salad.” When I make it, I combine parts of several recipes. The proportions can be adjusted depending on how many are being served. Also, ingredients can be changed according to personal preferences. I’ve made it several times since Thanksgiving and am always pleased with the results. It’s perfect for company because I can fix it the day before. It’s a great take-along dish too. If I have leftovers, they are just as good the next day.
The biggest problem with the salad is that it contains several ingredients that can be high in sodium. To make a lower sodium version, I don’t use straight mayonnaise in the dressing. Instead, I use equal parts mayo and sour cream. If you make your own salt-free mayonnaise, the results will be even lower in sodium. For the grated cheese layer, I use equal parts sharp cheddar and naturally lower sodium Swiss cheese. And I don’t use as much cheese as many recipes call for. For an even lower sodium count, use all Swiss cheese. Finally, although I do use bacon, it’s only four slices of the low sodium variety. Here’s my recipe:
24 Hour Salad
1 head iceberg lettuce, chopped (Iceberg lettuce is traditional because it retains its crispness, but Romaine would probably work well too.)
Fresh baby spinach leaves, stems removed (Optional)
1-2 cups frozen green peas, thawed and drained well (Make sure the peas are salt free - I dry them on paper towels)
½ cup - 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup chopped green onions or red onions
½ cup - 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (I use a combo of cheddar and Swiss.)
2 hard cooked eggs, chopped
Bacon, cooked until crispy and crumbled (I use 4 slices of low sodium bacon.)
Note: Do NOT use tomatoes. They’re too watery.
½ cup mayonnaise (Salt-free homemade is great. I use Kraft – 70 mgs./tbsp.)
½ cup sour cream (Low fat works well.)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon NSA curry powder (Or any other NSA spice blend that appeals to you)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (Optional)
Layer the lettuce in the bottom of a large bowl. If you use a clear bowl, the layers of the salad are visible and make a lovely presentation. Follow with a layer of each vegetable. Some people seal the salad with the dressing after all the layers have been placed in the serving bowl. Others save the cheddar and bacon for the final layer after the overnight chill. It really doesn’t matter. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 24 hours before serving.
The thick mayo topping should be spread all the way to touch the sides of the bowl. It needs to form that “air tight” seal. When serving, do NOT toss the salad. Spoon down through the topping and the layers. Try to scoop down deep into the bowl to get a layer of everything then mix it on your plate. That way any leftovers will not get limp. Since it's not tossed, everything will stay crisp if the salad is refrigerated in a sealed container.