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 Grandmothers Gelatin Salad

Serves 4-6.

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.


  1. i love that description - "jewels suspended in champagne."

  2. When my Yankee sister-in-law moved to North Carolina, she was asked to bring a congealed salad to a church supper. Within minutes she was on the phone to me, horrified, needing to know what on earth that horrible-sounding dish could be! The word congealed wouldn't do justice to the dish you prepared so I'm glad you forgot that name which surely must have been part of your culinary upbringing also. "Gelatin Salad" sounds much tastier!