Jello Salad: New and Improved!

December 17, 2015

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

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. 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.

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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. 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.

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

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Editor/writer/stylist. Author of I Dream of Dinner (so You Don't Have To). Last name rhymes with bagel.


bronwyncarlisle October 20, 2016
Jellied beetroot was a staple in my aunt's house 50 years ago. It's delicious.
Westcoasty July 1, 2016
I'll be honest - I can stomach classic Jello a lot better than I can stomach anything to do with beets. I sometimes eat sugar but I never ever eat beets. Ugh. Maybe you could post a recipe for lemon herb Jello?
Johan Z. December 17, 2015
You should be looking forward to a call from Jello's trademark lawyers. You did NOT make a Jello salad, since Jello is the trade name for the stuff that comes sweetened and flavored in a box. You made a jelly salad or a jellied salad. Or maybe even an aspic. Probably an aspic since it has no sugar. Just not Jello.
Ryan P. December 17, 2015
I can see the fear in this Jello salad. Its jiggling uncontrollably.
Elizabeth L. October 20, 2016
Kristen M. December 17, 2015
I like this better than other beet salads—is that bad?
Niknud December 17, 2015
I'm completely grossed out (in the best possible way). Not sure I can bring myself to make/eat it. However, I admire those that do - much like I admire those folks on reality shows that eat live insects......
Kenzi W. December 17, 2015
This was actually very good!! I *could* eat it all day!!
Amanda S. December 17, 2015
I can't (in all the good ways) with that video!!!
Sarah J. December 17, 2015
I want to project that jiggling video in my living room 24/7.