If ever there was a showboat in the world of salads, 7 Layer Salad is it. Served in tall and proud, this show-stopping, Southern potluck staple has remained the bell of the BBQ from the 1950s to this very day. With colorful layers of Iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, peas, tangy mayonnaise dressing, Cheddar cheese, and bacon, this retro keeper is a little bit healthy and a lotta bit indulgent.
Any salad that enables you to eat the rainbow and simultaneously satisfies your comfort food cravings is a keeper. Use this recipe as a gorgeous addition to wow the crowd at this years' potlucks, picnics, or BBQs!
WHAT ARE THE LAYERS OF A 7 LAYER SALAD?
- Hard-Boiled Eggs
- Cheddar Cheese
THE MAYONNAISE DRESSING
The dressing for this salad is creamy, cool, tangy and perfectly suited to pair perfectly with all of the components. It is made up of a simple ingredient list: Mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, and salt.
Many throwback recipes call for sugar in the dressing. Mayonnaise already has a natural sweetness to it (not to mention the peas) so we left it out, but if you're a stickler for tradition, or you just prefer your dressing on the sweeter side, add 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar when you're mixing things up.
CAN I SWAP OUT INGREDIENTS?
The layers are up for debate, and like every other salad recipe on the planet, the ingredient list is interchangeable with a number of other vegetables.
If there is an ingredient you don't much care for, feel free to omit it. On the flip side, you can add to the list and turn any 7 Layer Salad into an 8, 9, or even 10-layer masterpiece! Other items that would work well in this recipe are:
- Crumbled Blue Cheese
- French-Fried Onions
- Sliced Green Onions
- Chopped Red Onions
- Sliced Black Olives
- Chopped Celery
- Sliced Cucumber
- Sliced Carrots
- Diced Bell Peppers
- Chopped Green Beans
- Diced Turkey or Ham
THE ORDER OF ASSEMBLY MATTERS
There are typically four ingredients that make up the base/body of the salad. These should always be layered in an order of lightest to most "dense." The lighter items, like lettuce, will go on the bottom, and heavier items, like peas, will go on the top.
The exception to the rule are the toppers -- cheese and bacon.
HOW TO MAKE 7 LAYER SALAD
- Make the Dressing - Add the mayonnaise, sour cream, vinegar, and salt to a bowl and whisk to combine.
- Fry the Bacon - Add the bacon to a large sauté pan and fry until cooked to your liking, about 10-12 minutes.
- Assemble the Salad - Have ready a trifle dish, bowl, or casserole dish. Add the lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and then the peas to the serving vessel in that particular order. Then, pour the dressing over the peas and spread it evenly across the top. Sprinkle the Cheddar cheese over the dressing, and top with the bacon.
- Chill - Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled or up to 8 hours.
WAYS TO SERVE IT
If you want to make a show-stopping presentation at this years' potluck party, assemble your 7-Layer Salad in a trifle dish or glass serving bowl. You'll need the bowl to have at least a 3-quart capacity, which is standard for most trifle dishes.
If you don't have a clear bowl or trifle dish, no need to fret -- you can still whip up this delicious crowd-pleaser using a 9"x13" casserole dish!
WHY IS IT CALLED OVERNIGHT SALAD?
7 Layer Salad by any other name is Overnight Salad. There isn't any clear origin in regard to this famous potluck staple, however, our research indicates it very likely originated in the Southern region of the U.S. sometime around the 1950s (a.k.a. the era of the liberated housewife).
Our best guess? The recipe was marketed at that time to women as one of great convenience: A dish that could be made well in advance, making cooking duties and/or party preparations easier on the lady of the house.
BUT HOW LONG DOES IT LAST? REALLY?
However, unless you dig on wilted lettuce, we highly advise it's consumed within a 24-hour period. Especially if you're serving it to wow a crowd.
So, can you make it the night before? Yes. Should you? Ehhhh...
Like most salads, it is 100% best served cold, but like any dish containing a mix of vegetables with even a semi-high water content, it should be eaten sooner than later.
4 TIPS TO KEEP IT FROM GETTING SOGGY
Even though it maybe shouldn't be made the day before it's served, you can certainly still make it ahead.
1. MAKE SURE THE INGREDIENTS ARE DRY
The most important thing you can do to keep your salad from getting soggy is to make sure all of the ingredients are very dry, particularly the lettuce and the tomatoes.
- Use a salad spinner to dry the lettuce after washing it. Consider taking extra cautionary measures by rolling it in a clean dish towel and pressing gently to absorb any excess water.
- Leave the grape tomatoes whole, or if you'd like to halve them, make sure you squeeze out all of the seeds and pulp!
2. STACK LIGHT-TO-HEAVY
As mentioned earlier, arranging the ingredients, starting with the lightest on the bottom and moving up to the heaviest items on the top, is a great start to keeping your 7 Layer Salad from getting soggy.
The denser items will trap the dressing and keep it from getting to the more delicate ingredients. Peas, in particular, are dense and space together tightly in a layer, which serves as an awesome barrier to keep the dressing from saturating the lettuce and tomato.
3. SAVE THE DRESSING FOR LATER
You could also wait to add the dressing until the day you intend to serve the salad.
4. PREP AND STORE INGREDIENTS SEPARATELY
If you'd really like to get a heavy jumpstart on whipping up this dish, simply prepare the ingredients and store them in separate containers in the refrigerator.
Below are tasks that can be done up to 3 days in advance:
- Fry the bacon
- Grate the cheese
- Thaw the peas
- Chop the lettuce
- Hard-Boil the eggs
5 MORE POTLUCK SIDE DISHES YOU’LL LOVE
7 Layer Salad made with traditional ingredients like peas, Iceberg lettuce, eggs, bacon, cheese, and an easy mayo dressing!
- 1 ⅓ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 2 teaspoons white vinegar (white wine, apple cider, or rice wine vinegar will work as well)
- ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ⅓ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 12 slices thick-cut bacon, diced
- 4 cups (about 1 head) Iceberg lettuce, chopped (make sure the lettuce is dry)
- 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise and seeded
- 6 large hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped
- 1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peas, thawed in a colander
- 1 ½ cup freshly grated Cheddar cheese
Add all of the dressing ingredients to a medium-sized mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
Add the bacon to a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside on a paper towel-lined plate.
Have ready a 3-quart trifle dish, bowl, or a 9x13" casserole dish. Add the ingredients in a layer in this specific order: Lettuce, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and then the peas. Pour the dressing over the peas and spread it evenly across the top. Sprinkle the Cheddar cheese over the dressing, and top with the bacon.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.