Jelled salads. So very very retro, except perhaps in Utah, where my friend Kalyn tells me Jell-O is the state fruit. Jelled salads and aspics became popular in America in the early part of the last century when food scientists were finally able to stabilize gelatin sufficiently for predictable results in the kitchen. They really took off mid-century when the pre-flavored, already-sugared Jell-O brand mixes became available. My Minnesota grandmother loved gelatin salads like nobody’s business and used to make them for us all the time when I was growing up. I still love Jell-O, gelatin, all things aspic, mostly because of the memories they evoke. People don’t really make things like this that much anymore.
So, the genesis of this particular salad? My pal Garrett made a truly terrific batch of this rhubarb rosemary jelly from Gourmet, which is made with gelatin, that I thought would make an excellent jelled salad. The combination of rhubarb and rosemary is refreshing and delightful. My first experiment resulted in a too-sweet rhubarb jelled dessert, but the second attempt, with much less sugar and the addition of cool and crunchy cucumbers worked out great. It’s so pretty and pink! Even preppie with the green hues from the cukes. Mom and team loved it.
- 1 lb rhubarb, chopped into 1/2-inch slices
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- Zest of one lemon
- 3 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 Tbsp dry)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups water + 1 cup chilled water
- 3 (1/4 ounce) packets of plain gelatin
- 1-2 cucumbers, peeled, seeds scraped out, chopped
1 Put half of the chopped rhubarb, lemon juice, lemon zest, rosemary, sugar, salt and 2 cups of water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Strain and discard solids.
2 Return strained liquid to pan. Add the remaining rhubarb to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, on medium, with minimal stirring.
3 Put 1 cup of chilled water into a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over the water to soften the gelatin. Let sit for 1 minute. Stir the softened gelatin mixture into the rhubarb rosemary mixture. Let the mixture cool until it is slightly warm, no longer hot, to the touch.
4 Pour rhubarb mixture into a mold (can use a loaf pan). Stir in the chopped cucumber. Chill in the refrigerator 4 to 5 hours, until set firm. The top should feel dry, not sticky. (If you want the cucumber better distributed through the salad, stir it in only after the salad has chilled a while and begun to set.)
5 To unmold, fill a basin or a large bowl with warm water. Lower the bottom of the mold into the water. Count 10 seconds and remove. Use a blunt knife to loosen the gelatin from the sides of the mold and break the vacuum. Place a plate upside down on top of the mold and then carefully turn the mold over, holding on to the plate. Gently lift off the mold. If the salad sticks to the mold, place it in the warm water for a few seconds more.