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Jello Salad: New and Improved!

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People hate Jello salad for the same reasons others adore it:

Left: What you might think when you hear "Jello salad."
Left: What you might think when you hear "Jello salad." Photo by Linda Xiao

Doters mostly make it because it reminds them of their family, the good ol’ days, Betty Crocker, but I do not come from a Jello salad tradition: Its nostalgia-draped tricks and tempts do not work on me. I come from a salad salad tradition, one that seeks freshness, balance of flavor and texture, and deliciousness (which is to say, not “Jello salad”). Should I make a salad with Jello, it would have to earn its place—without it, the salad shouldn’t be as good.

Call me crazy, or hold on tight.

Modern-day Jello salad, Christmas colors not intentional.
Modern-day Jello salad, Christmas colors not intentional. Photo by Mark Weinberg

First, I made Jello from an ingredient that is good soft: Avocado (duh). While it tasted “actually good" according to a Jello-fearing friend, the appearance of avocado Jello is largely unappealing and I didn’t need any more barriers to entry.

Then I thought about foods that could benefit from some levity, like root vegetables. A beet something schmeared on a cracker sounds...hearty. But beet juice is smooth and clean—in Jello form, it's practically weightless. Beet's best friend, balsamic vinegar, was invited to the Jello mold and then—oddly, suddenly—a beet-vinegar palate cleanser didn’t seem entirely unreasonable.

So what’s good with beets and balsamic? Goat cheese, but we’re not making panna cotta; nuts, but according to highly comprehensive focus groups, there is no crunch allowed in Jello; and citrus and herbs, two ingredients that always hoist a dish up. Ding ding.

Here, some lemon zest and fresh herbs—any you like—get blended with the gelatin and salt and pepper. Not only do you get a bright green color closer to green juice than lime Jello, but you're also able to season the gelatin before pouring it atop the deeply purple beet layer. (Season as you go! We are cooking, after all.)

Not the 1970s.
Not the 1970s. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Also, did you notice I said gelatin instead of Jello right then? While the recipe uses unflavored gelatin (though not artisanal or heritage) instead of colored Jello packets, I'm calling it "Jello salad" regardless. It's my attempt to bring the term out of the 1970s, which seems easier than pulling off bell bottoms with this recipe around.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Okay, maybe there are also some sprouts. Salad likes accessories. Here you see sour cream, apple slices, rye crispbread, and sprouts. But Amanda wanted horseradish, and I also flirted with sauerkraut. We tried an early round with goat cheese and pickled red onions—both good. People I force-fed said the result was “surprisingly refreshing,” something they “would eat all day long.”

With this plea, I rest my case. We are ready for this jelly.

Beet Herb Salad (in Jello Form)

Beet Herb Salad (in Jello Form)

Ali Slagle Ali Slagle
Makes one 6-cup jello mold

For the first layer (beet):

  • 1/2 cup cold beet juice
  • 1 packet (1 tablespoon) unflavored gelatin powder
  • 1 cup boiling-hot beet juice
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

For the second layer (herb and lemon):

  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1 packet (1 tablespoon) unflavored gelatin powder
  • 1 cup boiling-hot water
  • 1 cup mixture of fresh herbs of choice (parsley, basil, chives, dill, cilantro, you pick!)
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • Salt and pepper
  • Rye crispbread, sour cream, thinly sliced green apples, sunflower sprouts, or the like, for serving
Go to Recipe

(This post is not affiliated with Jell-O, which is a registered trademark of Kraft Foods.)

Automagic Holiday Menu Maker!
Automagic Holiday Menu Maker!

Tags: Appetizer, Side, Christmas, Holiday, Holiday Entertaining