A Tale of Kale Salad & Holiday Jell-O - No. 169
Odd table mates, for certain, but delicious. Plus, a brief special offer on paid subscriptions!
YOU EXPECT SOME PUSHBACK WHEN THE NEW YORK TIMES is brave enough to recommend a molded cranberry salad.
Just recently Eric Kim’s salad of cranberries and juice, apples, plus gelatin sparked controversy. Although tame compared to the whacky Jell-O salads that have graced Thanksgiving tables in my neck of the woods, Eric’s recipe still drew naysayers who dissed the unflavored gelatin. And it brought a handful of supporters, too, who waxed nostalgic about molded salads at the holiday. Those Instagram comments proved juicy, mindless reading.
What with being a newspaper food editor for many years and being surrounded by good Southern cooks, I’ve learned to respect Jell-O’s hold on the holiday table. My mother’s and mother-in-law’s salad molds are stacked high on a shelf downstairs, so you might say there has been some reverence to frozen fruit salad and tomato aspic. And when I wrote about Jell-O salads last May, I shared a few of those favorite recipes like the bing cherry mold, perfect with roasted turkey.
Jell-O reminds me of being a child at Thanksgiving and seeing something on the table just for me. But to others, it smacks of unhealthfulness, a bygone time, and isn’t what they’re hungry for.
So considering how polarized this country is with your way and my way—and I definitely read that into the cranberry mold comments—what if we just staged a holiday buffet with the Jell-O mold right alongside a kale salad? I think it would work!
Friendsgiving changed the landscape of the Thanksgiving table.
If I hadn’t gathered with Atlanta friends instead of driving home to reconnect with cousins and umpteen casseroles, I wouldn’t have made fresh cranberry sauce and forever traded the can opener for a bag of fresh berries. I wouldn’t have tried my friend Alice’s dill bread recipe or realized how good bourbon tastes in pecan pie.
It woke up my taste buds and gave me license to shake up the holiday meals, and we didn’t even call it ‘’Friendsgiving.’’ It opened my mind to kale salad, too.
About 10 years ago my friend Joy offered to make me a kale and brussels sprouts salad she had been going on about. My husband was celebrating a milestone birthday. Friends came over, and we chargrilled filet, and I had Joy’s bowl of fabulous kale salad to go with it. Add cake and wine, and it was a festive party.
My older daughter tasted that kale salad, and it became her salad. She toted it to Friendsgivings and Thanksgivings with the new in-laws, and now she can’t arrive at their house without their granddaughter and her kale salad.
She makes it days in advance, and the day after Thanksgiving it is the ‘’perfect fresh element on a leftover turkey sandwich,’’ she said. She’s even dressed it up with pomegranate seeds on top. My younger daughter just made Joy’s salad last week for an office pre-Thanksgiving potluck, and as the host had miscommunicated the date, she was left with a big kale salad. But this is the salad you want to be left with…definitely more so than Jell-O.
A few years back Joy made the kale salad once again for Thanksgiving.
Her Atlanta cousins begged for the recipe and the remainder of the salad. As they were driving home her cousin started craving kale salad. She reached into the back, pulled open the container, and started eating it with her hands, loving every bite.
While you might not think kale salad could generate the same nostalgia as strawberry Jell-O and crushed pineapple, that’s exactly what’s taken place in my family. Everyone has gotten all misty-eyed about the kale.
And for good reason. In spite of the tedious prep to tear, shred, and marinate the kale, it’s always the star. I’m just suggesting this is not an either/or situation. What about the kale sidling right up to the cranberry mold? Or vice versa. No judging.
Come to think of it, those flavors are pretty complimentary with the salt and umami of the kale playing against the sweet of the Jell-O. Both are best made in advance, preferably overnight. Kale and its superfood status might even make up for Jell-O’s dietary shortcomings, too.
They would be unlikely table mates from different eras, a true conversation starter. If they were people, would they agree about politics? Does it even matter?
Together they seem collective, unpolarizing, opposites that delightfully attract, and quite befitting of Thanksgiving. Pulled apart, when it’s just one against the other, that’s another matter…
What about you? Do you get nostalgic about Jell-O? Kale salad?
Thanks to my friend Jolene at Time Travel Kitchen for alerting me to the cranberry molded salad kerfuffle over at The New York Times!
Happy Thanksgiving & an Upgrade to Paid Offer
In spite of the turkey coming out of the oven, I will be sending a Thursday post to paid subscribers. It includes another sneak-peek recipe from my new book—scones! Bake them with the fresh cranberries leftover from Thanksgiving. Don’t miss this recipe or my content in December when I’ll be writing just once a week on Thursdays. And you begged for another special, so here it is. The last one of 2022!
And now, the two unlikely table mates, just in case you’re still undecided on a side dish for Thursday or already planning ahead to Christmas!
Joy’s Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad
Joy’s original recipe called for more dressing, but I always found I had leftover so thus this is my rendition. If you like a lot of dressing double the amounts here. My younger daughter adds 50 percent more brussels sprouts and dressing than this version for even more sauce and crunch. And if you prefer pine nuts to almonds, add them. Sometimes I add a few red pepper flakes. It’s a versatile recipe!
Makes 8 servings
Prep: 30 to 35 minutes
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon minced shallots
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup good olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bag (12 ounces) kale (Tuscan or curly), rinsed and dried
10 to 12 ounces brussels sprouts, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup almonds with skins, chopped
1 cup grated pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Make the dressing: Place the lemon juice and mustard in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Stir in the shallot and garlic. Set aside 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to toast the almonds, then whisk the remaining oil into the lemon mixture until thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.
Make the salad: Remove and discard the center stems of the kale. Stack the leaves on top of each other and slice them thinly crosswise to create that is called a chiffonade. (If you are pressed for time, remove the center stems but chop the leaves in the food processor, pulsing the machine on and off until the pieces of kale are the size you want.) Place the kale in a large serving bowl.
Cut the stem ends off the brussels sprouts and, using a sharp knife, cut them in half lengthwise and then thinly slice the halves crosswise. Place the brussels sprouts in the bowl with the kale and toss to combine.
Place the reserved 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the almonds and cook, stirring, until they begin to take on color, about 2 minutes. Remove the almonds from the heat and let them cool.
To serve, toss the kale and brussels sprout mixture with the dressing. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and toss to combine it well. Sprinkle the almonds over the top of the salad and serve.
Strawberry & Cranberry Jell-O Salad
An oldie-but-goodie. That is, until strawberry gelatin and mandarin oranges vanish from the supermarket. The pecans are optional but add that nice bit of crunch!
Makes 8 to 10 servings
Prep: 10 minutes
Chill: At least 3 hours
1 package (3 ounces) strawberry or cherry gelatin
1 cup boiling water
1 can (16 ounces) whole berry cranberry sauce (or 2 cups homemade)
2 cans (11 ounces each) mandarin oranges, drained
1 can (8 ounces) crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup finely chopped and toasted pecans (3 to 4 minutes at 350 degrees F), if desired
Place the gelatin in a large heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over. Stir to dissolve. Add the cranberry sauce, mandarin oranges, pineapple, and pecans, and stir until well blended.
Lightly oil a 4-cup ring mold or a Bundt pan or 2-quart baking dish. Transfer the salad to the mold, cover with plastic wrap, and chill at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. The Bundt and ring mold will take longer to set than the baking dish.
To unmold, fill the sink with 1 inch of hot water, and dip the mold into the water briefly. Run a knife around the edges, then shake to loosen and unmold onto a platter lined with lettuce leaves. If using the baking dish, cut into squares and arrange on the lettuce.
I was *just* traipsing through my old accordion file of recipe cards and clippings this weekend and came across the "Spice Jello Salad" my mom used to make, I could instantly picture and taste it. Not even unflavored gelatin, it calls simply for 2 packages of "red jello". No cranberry, there is instead applesauce, crushed pineapple and walnuts, with spices--still reminiscent of the season. Haven't made a jello (or gelatin) concoction in ages!
I didn’t like kale before it was cool (upper midwest upbringing by parents who grew up on farms so we had a garden, northern European ancestry so grew things like kale) so I pass on all things kale. But as a midwesterner, I like jello salads, & this is a good one.