Green salad

GreenSalad.jpg

It’s unquestionably green, although I’m not quite sure why it’s called a salad. Our dear friend D has often spoken of his paternal grandmother’s green salad. It is something that his family serves at every Thanksgiving and Christmas meal. The subject first came up a few years ago when we discussed the idea of organizing a potluck meal where each guest would contribute a dish that was a family specialty or part of a family tradition—something that we looked forward to eating on special occasions. I have to confess that when D described the green salad of his childhood (a combination of lime jelly, pineapple, whipped cream, mini marshmallows and cheddar cheese), I wasn’t particularly enthused by the thought of tasting it.

Our plans for that particular potluck meal fell through, but D had emailed his mom for the recipe and bought a box of lime Jell-O—the main ingredient in green salad. (I have since discovered that lime Jell-O can be difficult to find in Singapore. D insists that it has to be made with Jell-O and no other brand.) When D moved back to the US in late 2004, he left me with his box of Jell-O and a copy of his mom’s recipe wrapped around it, promising that he would return to make me his favourite green salad before the stuff expired in October 2005. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Or rather, he returned but never got around to making it.

His email print-out has sat in my recipe notebook for three years. While I wasn’t too crazy about the idea of the salad, I enjoyed reading his mom’s recipe and her careful deconstruction of cookbook recipe-speak (including descriptions of what “soft-peaks” and “fold” mean). To me, her recipe and D’s green salad capture the essence of what makes food so special: love. By that, I mean the unspoken affection that goes into preparing it and that grows out of receiving or savouring it. We tasted his green salad last Saturday. (By the way, even though it’s called salad, it’s a dessert.) My taste buds couldn’t quite get around the cheddar cheese, but I did finally get it. This wasn’t so much a gastronomic epiphany as it was an emotional one. It was akin to tasting someone’s memory and that can sometimes be much more special than tasting truffles or caviar.

The whipped cream tempered the sugariness of the jelly and the airiness of both the marshmallows and cream gave the dessert a mousse-like quality. Crushed pineapple took the edge off the brash lime flavouring and the cheddar brought a dairy richness and subtle savoury accent to the combination. I’ve noticed that most other recipes for green salad or holiday green salad call for cream cheese. The addition of cheddar may have been D’s grandma’s innovation. D’s green salad reminded me of a similarly flavoured ice lolly (minus the cheese) that my school friends often ate and prompted me to think of tuckshops and giggling schoolgirls. It also awoke my own dormant weakness for Bird’s Custard poured over cooked fruit (something I developed an affection for after having eaten a year’s worth of English school lunches as a young child). This may not be a sophisticated dish, but it hits a very specific sentimental spot.

More importantly, it is a dessert that will be added to my list of D’s favourites (alongside pecan pie and pumpkin pie). While I am constantly blown away by intricate and exotic dishes, oftentimes, it is the simplest ones that seem most genuine in their expression of a cook’s love. To know what your loved ones take the greatest pleasure in eating requires an intimate understanding of who they are deep inside. It thrills me when our friend BG wolfs down home made coleslaw and steamed chocolate pudding or when N continues to rave about the pork belly I once served him because it reminded him of a dish he ate as a child. I know that a simple steamed custard filled with minced pork (but not the lean stuff sold at supermarkets) and salted duck egg yolks or his mom’s banana cake makes my husband happy. I reckon that in the long run that’s what matters most.

Green Salad
Serves 6-8

6oz package of lime Jell-O
2 cups mini marshmallows
1 can (8oz) crushed pineapple in heavy syrup (I couldn’t find crushed pineapple and substituted it with a 567gram can of pineapple chunks. The chunks need to be finely diced.)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ cup or less grated cheddar cheese (I have to confess I omitted this in mine.)

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over the lime Jell-O. Stir until the Jell-O dissolves (a little over a minute). Stir in the marshmallows, pineapple and the liquid in the can. I did this in a large glass measuring jug.

Chill the mixture until it is soft-set. It should be very thick. I’ve seen other recipes state that it should be refrigerated for 1 to 1½ hours.

Whip the cream to soft peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream and cheese into the Jell-O mixture. Pour the mixture into a large serving dish (I opted for individual portions) and refrigerate until firm.

About Su-Lyn Tan

Su-Lyn is Aun's better half and for many years, the secret Editor behind this blog known to readers simply as S. Su-Lyn is an obsessive cook and critical eater whose two favourite pastimes are spending time with her two kids and spending time in the kitchen. She looks forward to combining the two in the years to come.

28 comments on “Green salad
  1. Hi CH & S, I was reading through previous posts as I’m thinking of a crab dinner this weekend. Would you share your recipe for crabcakes with wasabi mayo? It looks fantastic.

  2. I always love your pictures. So.. professional! :) But how do you get those results when you’re out – you don’t carry your lightbox thing around too do you?

  3. S,

    u’re an incredible food writer – particularly enjoy the emotive and personal elements in your entries. For a moment, i can see D with wide sparkling eyes as he talk of The Salad excitedly.

    There’s an inner child in everyone of us, and only a few things – a song, the taste of an unforgettable dish, a memory – can entice the child to come out and play. 😉

    xoxox LG

  4. Molly: It seems to be one of those dishes that each family has it’s own recipe for. I’ve seen others that call for nuts and grated carrot.

    Weylin: I use the crab cake recipe in Chez Panisse Cooking by Paul Bertolli and Alice Waters. Essentially, freshly picked crab meat is combined with diced cod. Add finely sliced spring onions, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, some chilli powder and mayonnaise, and mix. The mixture is shaped into small cakes, coated with panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) and refrigerated until you’re ready to serve them. They just need to be panfried. The wasabi mayo is blend of Japanese mayo and wasabi 😛

    CC: CH does the restaurant review photography. We don’t turn up with reflectors or anything like that. It would freak out restaurateurs and fellow diners. Setting your white balance is key. Picking a reasonably well lit seat also helps. But in the case of the green salad, I recreated it at home.

    LG: Thanks :) Blogging offers me the luxury of writing about things a magazine is unlikely to be interested in.

    Ales: I agree with you, but I try my best to always keep an open mind! It wasn’t terrible with cheddar, but it’s something you have to aquire a taste for.

  5. Wow!!! I thought my grandma was the only one who would make such a thing!!! She calls it “Jello Salad”, and sometimes uses Fruit Punch Flavor. She too uses the Cottage Cheese option. Its a family favorite, and, frankly, the only food she makes real well (the only other thing she’s made us in my memory is burnt tortillas with butter, and dried refried beans-just add water).

  6. Hey Aun, just read your interview with Serious Eats. Thanks for telling the world that Malaysian street food is better. (If you lose your citizenship, I am sure we Malaysians will welcome you and S with open arms!). 😉

    During my recent layover in SIN, I have to admit that the street food in Singapore has improved a lot (well, compared to my last trip many years ago). So all is good. :)

  7. hmmmm, I wonder how it would taste WITH the cheddar. Not sure if I’m brave enough to try this but it would be perfect for St. Patrick’s day.

  8. S,

    Thanks so much for the down to earth post. As a Pennsylvania raised country girl living in Virginia, most Chubby Hubby articles are like a glimpse into food fairy land. This one on the other hand reminded me of a similar dish that my Grandma used to make for her adoring fans. While I love the exotic trip reports, lucious restaurant reviews, and inspiring recipes, I’d love to see some simple “memory foods” that shaped you and your husband into the gourmands that you are. Incidentally, my Mac’s dictionary defines gourmand as someone who a. eats often and sometimes to much and b. a connoisseur of food…a pretty good description of the two of you together ;).

  9. There must be a million variations on jello salad in the American culinary repertoire (ooops, what does that say about American cuisine?). My mother’s is a Thanksgiving and Christmas-only raspberry jello salad packed with fresh cranberries, walnuts, orange segments, and chopped celery. Sounds gross but it’s actually delicious.

    Great post!

  10. Coming from an area of the US that unleashed upon the planet chili with chocolate and cinnamon in it (this would be Cincinnati, OH and yes, I love that damn stuff), I’m not sure if this means much, but… I have to say it.

    Jello salad is one of the nastiest things on the planet. ESPECIALLY when you add pineapple and cottage cheese to it. I cannot count the number of potlucks where I’ve seen this stuff sit like radioactive waste. A teeny tiny fraction of the population love it, and the sane members of the group look for something edible. I apologize in advance to those I’ve insulted…

  11. that looks just like mormon jello! A staple in Utah, I’d say. mmmmmm can’t get enough of it… with cool whip. Yum.

  12. I love how you’ve pointed out how some dishes are simply a genuine expression of a cook’s love, how a certain dish can take us back to our childhoods and comfort us. No matter if it is a subtly blended jell-o dish or a radioactive one! Especially in our culture where maybe we don’t say I love you to our parents and vice versa, cooking a delicious dish is one way to do that. Ever see Eat Drink Man Woman by Ang Lee? it made me think of that. Lovely post, glad to have bloghopped here from Rasa Malaysia.

  13. I love the way you described the connection between food and a person’s fondest memories. It’s so true! I think that connection becomes even more evident when the foods we associate with those memories are unusual.

  14. S,
    I believe Del Monte has crushed pineapple but it’s not easily available in the supermarts here. My mom had a direct supplier from Del Monte so that’s where we got our supply. Otherwise, you might try looking for them at the Filipino grocery stores in Lucky Plaza.

  15. Lovely photo. But I must say that Jell-O salad is one of those things I’ve read about many times and it simply makes no sense to me!! As you say, though, some foods are so bound up in childhood memories that it’s not the taste you crave but the emotions that accompany the food. So following this reasoning, I don’t like Rice Krispie and marshmallow squares but I adore chocolate Cornflake clusters. I grew up with the latter and not the former…

  16. It looks like it’d be perfectly festive for St. Patrick’s Day! It’s definitely one of those things you have to have grown up eating… but I loved reading the story!

  17. I like how you have so lovingly described this ‘salad’, but I still don’t think I’d ever be able to manage even a spoonful of it. It’s got too many items in it that I wouldn’t want to eat, even on their own! 😀

  18. Hunh. My family’s version includes not just cream cheese, but sour cream and mayonnaise, and removes the marshmallows. It may also have something else in it, I can’t recall. It makes for a more savory, less translucent food. It’s super weird, harrowing to make, but my dad loves it.

  19. Hi Chubby Hubby, I’m from Singapore studying in australia and I’ve long followed your culinary blog! I just wanted to shed some light on a song that describes this verdant dessert (click on my URL). First learnt this song as a kid from my choirmistress who then served it to us!

  20. And I thought my salads were unorthodox… But now it makes sense, in view that it is an American dessert. It’ll be a hit at kids’ parties and it won’t be hard to get them to finish their greens!

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