Molded Rhubarb Rosemary Cucumber Salad

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.

Molded Rhubarb Rosemary Cucumber Salad Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 6 to 8.

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

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.

Keep chilled.

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jelled-rhubarb-salad-1.jpg

Links:
Rhubarb rosemary jelly from Gourmet

20 Comments

  1. Denise

    Uh oh. Jell-o Salads and aspics are scary. Really scary. My partner makes things like “asparagus jell-o” and “ham and hard boiled egg jell-o” just so she can photograph them for her blog. Well she’d like it if we would eat the dishes but we won’t, so she just hopes for a decent photo and suffers through our teasing.

    :-)

  2. caroline

    I’ve never had a jellied salad, having been born in the 80′s when they were already passe. I’d love to try yours, though– it sounds so refreshing and sophisticated. And, I imagine, low calorie as well.

  3. Alanna

    Ha! The first time you mentioned your Minnesota grandmother a couple of years ago, I began to wonder if we might be related (there are Bauers in my family too). But now, with a rhubarb jello salad? Forget, genealogy and DNA, we are definitely of the same clan!

    PS Your grandmother wasn’t alone. Every church-style cookbook from the Midwest has a fat section of “salad recipes”: 100% call for jello, 50% call for cream cheese, 1% include vegetables.

  4. Garrett

    So to any non-believers, trust me this combo is cats pajamas. Very tasty indeed!

  5. Michelle

    We still make orange jello salad with canned mandrin oranges every Thanksgiving, in honor of my Grandma. Unfortunately, it was her best recipe! (We are Minnesotans going back several generations, too.)

  6. Denise

    My huge family is from So Cal and a party just isn’t a party unless we have some sort of jello salad. We normally don’t do molds (too lazy) but we will do bowls or square pans that we can just cut or scoop out the salad. Of course not as pretty as a mold but just as tasty.

    p.s. Has anyone ever had jello salad with dressing (thousand island, I think) served on top of it? We had a family friend who would serve it this way and I remember it being very good.

  7. The Old Vic

    What an unusual recipe – I would never have though such a thing was possible ! I’ll have to have a go.

  8. Kalyn

    What a beautiful photo of the shimmering jello. You’re right, it’s quite a big deal here in Utah. I’m not too big on rhubarb, but it’s a texture thing and this rhubarb flavor with rosemary does sound interesting.

  9. Jeremy

    I’m sorry, Elise. Normally I’m with you and your recipes, but I cannot in good conscience support jelled food. I think that whole fad was one of the darkest periods in American culinary history.

    At least this recipe doesn’t have any meat in it…shudder…

    So I guess that means you won’t be trying our turkey loaf anytime soon? ~Elise

  10. Marc @ NoRecipes

    While I’m not a big jello salad fan, this actually sounds kinda good!

  11. Amy

    My father’s family is Minnesotan through and through. Easter is never quite right without one of my aunt’s famous jello salads, which always somehow have peeps and/or green coconut and/or jelly beans on top. The presentation of such a classic comfort food with the exciting new face of rhubarb sounds delicious!

  12. Gail

    It isn’t just Minnesota that has the lovely jello tradition – they were staples with my Illinois and Indiana family. Holidays still aren’t the same without jello. I think every Midwestern family has a large stack of jello recipes or a church cookbook with a “Salad” section like Alanna described. Something about raising a family in the 1950s just really lent itself to jello. And don’t forget about things like Watergate Salad – pistachio pudding, cool whip, mini marshmallows, nuts and canned pineapple. Those Cool Whip based salads are classics too. Even though they are horrible for you they still have a special place in my heart. =)

  13. Christina

    I recently inherited some old cookbooks, one of which was the Joy of Jello! and have been amazed at the unique ingredients people would jell in jello!
    I asked my mom about it b/c I was shocked to read how many used mayo in them as an ingredient. I guess it’s not that weird, but it just doesn’t sound very appetizing to me.
    My aunt always served jello salads with our holiday meals and I want to try a few ‘salads’ and use some of her molds.
    How timely that you would post this as I’ve just been uncovering those gelatin recipes!

  14. Connie

    For my kids, jello means “shakey bananas” – red jello w/sliced bananas. And the girls insist on having cherry coke salad at Thanksgiving. Not fine dining, but great memories.

  15. Edythe

    I’ve been enjoying your recipes since I discovered the site. I use them all the time and my husband says I rarely make the same dinner twice. Thanks!
    This jelled salad is new and inviting. I’ve always made jello molds and remember a Weight Watchers recipes using strawberry jello and rhubarb for Thanksgiving.
    Please include more of these jelled recipes from time to time. They are great fun.

  16. Darby

    My own grandma puts Miracle Whip on her marshmallow dotted jello salad, and serves it on a bed of lettuce. I love my grandma, she is great.

    She would probably scoff at this recipe, but I, on the other hand, never knew I could want rhubarb cucumber jello so badly.

  17. Marita

    The pistachio pudding concoction (minus the mini-marshmallows) that Gail describes above was a staple at our family get-togethers for quite a few years. It was known affectionately as the “green gunk,” and we all loved it. Food doesn’t always have to be sophisticated to be delicious!

  18. samiya

    I have always shrank from this kind of salad, but I just might make this one!

  19. Beth

    I spent half my childhood in Minnesota, and we had jello salad with Thousand Island dressing on top. What can I say, I’m a child of the 50′s. It actually was quite good. This one looks amazing, and I can’t wait to try it this spring. I love rhubarb!

  20. Ally

    Hi Elise, this sounds intriguing. I have been reading your blog for ages and don’t know how I missed this one. There are 2 or 3 gelatin salads I enjoy, so I will have to try this one. Can you believe I have never had rhrubarb? It isn’t as common in the south because it doesn’t grow as well as in other regions. I love the color of this salad; vibrant but natural.

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