A Classic Seven Layer Salad is the perfect make-ahead choice for a spring or summer potluck or holiday gathering anytime of year. Crisp, colorful ingredients are layered in a glass dish and topped with a slightly sweet and tangy dressing. Easy to customize and sure to make an impression!
The first time I ever set my eyes on a Seven Layer Salad I was in my early twenties working at the administration office for our local school district. There was an employee cafeteria on-site and we had our very own “lunch lady” who did magic things in that kitchen. This was no typical school lunch type of cafeteria. This was homemade, from scratch, home cookin’ from a woman who knew her way around a kitchen.
She held a monthly lunchtime potluck and we all brought in dishes to share. I’ve picked up some of my best recipes at these types of events. Classic recipes like this one that have stood the test of time.
It was our dear lunch lady that brought a layered salad to one particular potluck. Of course, I asked for the recipe and still have her handwritten note in my recipe binder.
Table of contents
History of the Seven Layer Salad
Seven Layer Salad originated in the South where it was commonly known as “seven-layer pea salad” in reference to the sweet pea layer ( a key component to any proper layered salad). The ingredients can vary slightly but you will typically see iceberg lettuce, peas, celery, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, cheese and bacon topped with a mayonnaise-based dressing. The ingredients are layered in a glass dish, like a trifle bowl, so the layers are visible through the sides.
There’s a little bit of everything in every bite. Vibrant, crunchy, and absolutely delicious!
- Greens – A combination of chopped iceberg and romaine lettuce.
- Veggies – Chopped celery, frozen green peas, chopped tomato, and chopped green onion.
- Beans – Canned garbanzo beans (rinsed and drained well).
- Eggs – Chopped hard-boiled eggs seasoned with a little salt and pepper.
- Salad Dressing – Mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, apple cider vinegar, and seasoned salt (like Lawry’s).
- Garnish – Shredded cheddar cheese and cooked, crumbled bacon.
Classic Seven Layer Salad Dressing
The flavor of the unique dressing is slightly sweet with a little tang from apple cider vinegar. It creates a seal over the top of the salad ingredients and prevents them from wilting and becoming soggy while the salad chills overnight. Mix together the easy dressing before assembling the salad.
- In a small bowl, combine the mayo, sour cream, seasonings, apple cider vinegar, and fresh chives.
- Cover and refrigerate the dressing until you’re ready to assemble the salad.
How to Make Seven Layer Salad
Add the ingredients to a glass bowl in the order listed to create distinct layers.
- Layer 1 – Lettuce
- Layer 2 – Tomato
- Layer 3 – Garbanzo beans
- Layer 4 – Celery and green onion
- Layer 5 – Hard-boiled egg seasoned with salt and pepper
- Layer 6 – Frozen peas (straight from the freezer)
- Dressing – Classic Seven Layer Salad dressing
- Layer 7 – Cheese and crumbled bacon (see the notes section of the recipe card below for instructions to cook bacon in the oven).
In an old school Seven Layer Salad recipe, you will usually see the dressing added as the top layer. Instead, I garnish the top with cheese and bacon for a more impressive look. If you’d like the dressing to be the final layer, layer the cheese and bacon inside the salad on top of the egg layer instead.
Layering Order: The order which the ingredients are layered is important. The lettuce is always on the bottom with the other ingredients layered over it to separate it from the dressing on top. This means that when you dig into the salad the next day, the lettuce and other ingredients will still have plenty of crunch.
The Peas: The frozen peas are added just underneath the dressing and help to chill the salad ingredients and peak through the dressing to create a pretty effect. They will thaw overnight and be perfect when you are ready to serve the salad.
Visible Layers: When adding each layer, scatter the ingredients around the edges of the dish first and then fill in to the center. This way you’ll be sure that each layer is visible from the side.
Garnish: If want to ensure the bacon is crisp, reserve it and garnish the salad just before serving.
Once assembled, cover the dish with plastic wrap refrigerate overnight. It keeps perfectly for up to 24 hours and even the leftovers stay surprisingly fresh and crisp if covered and refrigerated promptly.
Layered Salad Variations
A classic Seven Layer Salad should include a variety of green things like iceberg lettuce, celery, green onions, and peas. But, you can omit or substitute a large variety of ingredients to suit your taste. Here are just some ideas to get you thinking.
- Greens – Bring your layered salad into current times by adding some colorful mixed baby greens with the crunchy iceberg lettuce.
- Beans – Substitute any type of beans you love. Kidney beans, pinto beans, or black beans will all work well.
- Veggies – Corn, shredded carrot, thinly sliced radishes, chopped cucumber, and thinly sliced mushrooms are all delicious additions.
- Onions – Try it with diced red onion in place of the green onions.
- Olives – Sliced black or green olives are a yummy choice.
- Cheese – Add a little shredded Monterey Jack or pepper Jack with the cheddar.
- Fresh Herbs – Substitute the chives in the dressing with fresh dill or parsley.
More Salad Recipes You’ll Love
- Simple Italian Salad
- Chicken Avocado Pasta Salad
- Butter Lettuce Salad with Grapes and Gorgonzola
- Asian Pasta Salad
- Broccoli Salad
Classic Seven Layer Salad
For the salad:
- 6 to 8 cups chopped lettuce, half iceberg/half romaine
- 3 or 4 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 16 ounce can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained well
- 6 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 bunch green onions, chopped
- 8 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 16 ounces frozen peas, do not thaw
- 1½ cups shredded cheddar cheese, or to taste
- 8 strips bacon, cooked, cooled, and crumbled (see notes below)
For the dressing:
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup sour cream, light or regular
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon Lawry's Seasoned Salt, or similar all-purpose seasoning
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- Layer the salad ingredients in a clear glass trifle bowl or similar dish in the order listed through the peas.
- Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl. Use a rubber spatula or icing knife to spread the dressing out over the frozen peas. Garnish with the cheese and bacon (you can reserve the cheese and bacon and garnish just before serving, if desired).
- Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours before serving.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and line a rimmed baking sheet with heavy duty foil
- Place the bacon in an even layer and transfer the baking sheet to the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes or until nicely crisped.
- Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated using generic ingredients, and is an estimate not a guarantee. For more accurate results, please refer to the labels on your ingredients at home.
This post was originally published on June 4, 2014. It has been updated with new text and images.