Saturday, June 26, 2010
Me and Dr. Scholls -- Gellin’
What’s cooking? Strawberry-Watermelon-Cucumber Salad
The thermometer here in Austin has been in the 90s almost every day for the longest, and all I could think of was... gelatin salad. I’ve been a molded salad snob for years, disdaining the green wobbly squares with floating bits of pineapple and celery that would invariably appear on the menu at my mother-in-law’s house. She’s a wonderful woman and way too fond of Jello salad.
But in the midst of this summer heat wave, I was desperate for something cool that didn’t involve a lot of calories. I looked around my cupboard but had too little powdered gelatin for a salad, so – against all my better instincts – I made do with a package of sugar-free orange Jello. I mixed it with a heavy cup of grated carrots and an orange that I peeled, sliced and chopped into small segments, then added the juice of half a lemon to balance the sweetness of the Jello. Quite tasty – cool with crunch, and a dollop of creme fraiche took away even more of the sweetness.
Still, I yearned for the clarity of a plain gelatin base. So the next time I went to the store, I picked up a couple of boxes of Knox, and wandered the produce aisles for what to put with it. Strawberries are still in season, so I started with those. To add crispness or crunch, I chose an English cucumber – less bitter than the standard garden cuke, and with a thinner skin. And in a moment I can only describe as inspired, I discovered some seedless watermelon in the frig. I cubed everything – half-inch cubes for the fruit and quarter-inch cubes for the cucumber – to give it a more attractive presentation. For flavor and the hint of sweetness, I included minted simple syrup in lieu of some of the water. Wow. It tasted light and fresh, and it looked like jewels suspended in champagne.
Not Your Grandmother’s Gelatin Salad
1 cup sugar
1½ cups chopped mint
1 envelope gelatin
1 cup strawberries, cut in ½-inch dice
1 cup watermelon, cut in ½-inch dice
1 cup English cucumber, cut in ¼-inch dice
Begin by making minted simple syrup: Boil 1 cup water with the sugar and 1½ cups chopped mint, stirring only until the sugar dissolves. Boil 2 minutes and remove from heat. Strain out and discard the mint. Reserve the syrup.
Dissolve 1 envelope gelatin with 1 cup boiling water. Add ½ cup cold water plus ½ cup minted simple syrup and the chopped cucumber and fruit. Refrigerate until gelled.