Memorial Day marks the return of casual outdoor meals for a crowd. For a main course, you can fire up the grill and cook colorful kebabs, meaty but meatless burgers and succulent fish roasted in foil -- all with minimal effort.

Speedy, effortless side dishes are more challenging, especially a big salad. Often, my solution when feeding a mob draws from a retro favorite. Do you recall the layered salads popular back in the seventies and eighties? They include so many goodies they can suffice as the only side dish. Designed to be made in advance, these salads are perfect for feeding a dozen or more. They survive on the buffet table without wilting, too. If anything, they taste even better by the time people are back for seconds.

Layered salads are like an archaeological dig of easily assembled ingredients. Shredded lettuce is the classic bedrock of a layered salad. Above it come layers of five or more chunky choices, including canned beans, thawed frozen green peas and other ready-to-eat foods added straight from a can or a package, plus sliced fresh tomatoes and onion.

Often topped with diced cheese, layered salads were usually bathed in a creamy, dense, mayonnaise-based dressing. Applied ahead of time, even the night before, it worked down through the layers while in the dark silence of the fridge, marinating them in its tangy flavor. When the salad was tossed, just before serving, it unified all the ingredients and made eating the salad a delicious process of discovery.

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Slimming down the dressing, I use fat-free buttermilk and low-fat mayo. Thick enough to coat the salad nicely, this ranch dressing travels from the top to the bottom of the bowl fast enough that you can serve this salad without starting a day ahead, unless you prefer to. If possible, use a clear bowl so everyone can appreciate the colorful layers.

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Seven-Layer Salad with Ranch Dressing

Makes 12 servings.


  • 1 cup fat-free (or reduced-fat) buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. finely minced garlic
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 can (19 oz.) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 6 romaine lettuce leaves, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise in 1/2-inch strips
  • 2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 6 thin slices red onion, chopped
  • 1 package (10 oz.) frozen green peas, defrosted
  • 2 cups jicama, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup (4 oz.) reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese


  • In a small bowl, place buttermilk, mayonnaise, garlic, oregano, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk together until well blended. Cover and refrigerate dressing at least 30 minutes.
  • To make salad, place a layer of kidney beans in a deep, 8-inch glass serving bowl. On top of beans, add, in succeeding layers, lettuce, tomatoes, onion, peas and jicama. Sprinkle cheese over top. Pour dressing evenly over salad. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 to 3 hours. Just before serving, toss well and serve.

Nutritional Information Per Serving:
120 calories,
3 g. total fat (1 g. saturated fat),
17 g. carbohydrate,
7 g. protein,
5 g. dietary fiber,
280 mg. sodium.

Diabetic Exchanges: 3 Vegetable, 1 Lean Meat