Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Un-Salad

So, when I say type the word salad, what comes to mind?
What about candy bars or gumdrops?

(insert sound clip of a record screeching to a stop as the dance floor comes to a halt)

While I have been familiar with the ubiquitous 1950's Jello® style salad for years, it has only been in the last few that I've become acquainted with pot luck offerings that somehow managed to attach the word salad to themselves in the same way that the word natural is able to be attached to any food product (there are actually no legal parameters for the placement of the word onto food labeling)

First of all, I think that if I am going to dedicate a post to those salads that have horrified and reviled me, we should start where every English teacher likes to start: the dictionary.
The New Oxford Dictionary defines salad thus:
a cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish, or other ingredients: a green salad | bowls of salad
(etymological notes - the word comes from the Old French salade, which is derived from the Latin sal, meaning salt.  Weird.)
So, to paraphrase (because that's really how you understand the definition of a word, my dear pupils), a salad has veggies which can be either raw (like lettuce) or cooked (like a potato), and it generally is mixed with some sort of dressing.  It can go with other items, but it doesn't have to.

When I was little, various family gatherings tended to feature a lemon-and-lime Jello® salad to which my grandmother included, horror of horrors for 4-year-old me, shredded carrots and diced celery within that green, Bundt®-like molded shape.  While the jiggling of the "salad" was almost hypnotic, I knew even at such a young age that there was something just Not Right about the combination of vegetables and gelatin, a tenet I feel has served me well in my 34 years.  A related tenet is that raisins don't belong in cookies.
The Husband's family continues to have a ritual of bringing Jello® salad to holiday meals.  The recipe is always the same, made with sour cream, cottage cheese, and marshmallows, as well as some other items (I think), and my mother-in-law explained to me once that her mom, my husband's grandmother (and the namesake of our daughter), always made it, so it's become a tradition.  Both The Husband and I give this dish an extremely side berth at each gathering, but I do think that it's extremely sweet and lovely to continue this gentle nod to a woman who raised six children, held down a full-time job for many years in a time when women didn't usually hold down full-time jobs, and prepared great meals for her family.  This was the first Easter since her passing in December, so I'm certain that the salad (which is usually the first to be spoken for during the "who brings what" email thread) had a special significance to the family.
My overall thoughts on Jello® are that it should be reserved for shots, but that might be the College Allison coming out.  And if you're going to do Jello® shots, don't use Everclear.  Use sparkling wine.  I say go classy whenever possible.
Just don't put the Jello® in a salad.

The Jello® salad, like I mentioned, still might have some qualifications of a salad, although it's still a stretch in my imagination to call the Jello® the "dressing," as per the definition above.  Not so much with these next couple of... items (I just can't call these salads).

First off, gumdrop salad.
Yes, I did just type the word gumdrop and follow it up with the word salad.  Kind of makes the whole jumbo shrimp oxymoron look a little ridiculous, doesn't it?
I first came across this a few years back at a day-before-Easter potluck get together.  There I was, making my way through the fairly traditional potluck fare of burgers, hot dogs, and various casserole and salad makings, filling up my plate with those that tickled my fancy, when I saw a bowl that clearly had candy bathing in a frothy, whipped concoction.
"What's that?" I asked, trying not to sound as horrified as I felt (we were guests, after all, and I know that my personal tastes don't always gel with others).
The answer: gumdrop salad, and I just had to try it.
I don't like gumdrops as a rule (although I can make myself sick on Dots®; it's the difference in being coated in sugar or not), so adding them to a salad that also contained Cool Whip® or other whipped topping, something else that freaks me out, gave me the willies, to say the least (I have never liked the stuff, preferring whipped cream that I saw whipped).  So while I did take a small portion, I pretty much just moved it around on my plate and dug out (and wiped off) the grapes that were also hiding in the folds of the whip.  I just couldn't bring myself to take a full bite, even though our hosts were so kind to invite us in the first place.
All right, I guess the fact that most of the recipes use both grapes and pineapple squeak this bad boy in to the "salad" category of meals, and using a whipped topping certainly means that you're going to make the "oil" qualification.  But let's be honest.  RuPaul makes a more convincing woman than this makes a convincing salad. (ba-dum-bum!)
Apparently a lot of people like to make this recipe around Easter, considering the web searches I have done about this very salad.  I mean, what says "I'm celebrating the resurrection of Christ" more than non-dairy whipped topping and gumdrops?  When you can answer that, let me know, because I'm still wondering.
OK, OK... that was kind of snarky.  Especially because I myself took down an entire box of Peeps® (the purple bunny pack of 12) and three chocolate covered Peeps® over Easter weekend.
It's not something I'm proud of, people.
But when I think Easter dishes, I think spring and fresh.  Like a quinoa-based tabbouleh (shameless plug) bursting with parsley, lime, and, when it's not dying in the garden because the coonhound keeps trampling it, mint.  I don't think a heavy, sugar-laden candy dish.

And, for the grande finale, as it were, I give you Snickers® salad.
OK, gumdrops are one thing.  A recipe that calls for freezing candy bars, chopping said candy bars, and serving them in a bowl as a side dish just should not be allowed.  Seriously, who even came up with this in the first place?  If someone ever asks you why Americans are fat, just point them in the direction of this "salad."  Just because the recipe also includes Granny Smith apples doesn't make this a salad.  That's like my dad saying that the lettuce and tomato on his burger were a "big salad" at lunch (he literally used to say this, and we all knew he was full of it).
I love the article that I linked above (it also has a recipe), as the food editor from the Indy Star who wrote it said this about salads with candy: "Despite what all my community and church cookbooks would say, I don't think anything with marshmallows can really be called a salad."  I love her.
While this recipe, as the others I've mentioned here, are often brought to potlucks and large get-togethers that focus on delicious food, delicious doesn't always have to be laden with sugar and artificial ingredients.  I mean, except for Peeps® (thank goodness the store was almost out of them - a girl just can't resist a purple bunny Peep®).  That the salad has evolved from a grouping of raw vegetables tossed with a bit of oil to this... well, I'm kind of speechless.

Yes, this week we are featuring some interesting salads that play with some crazy-sounding ingredients, but the nod to the 1950s and 1960s highlights American creativity at using leftovers, etc., and no one -NO ONE - in our blogging buddy group suggested making a salad that featured candy as a main component.  So we have comfort food salads and fun salads and healthy salads.  But we don't have any candy salads.

***Just a final note - if you or someone you love makes or adores these type of salads, I mean no offense.  I certainly am not perfect in what I consume, especially at holiday events (hello, three dinner rolls).  These dishes are just so far away from the concept of what I think a salad should be, and I wanted to take a few minutes to make a (hopefully) light-hearted commentary on how Americans can make anything unhealthy with just a little creativity.  My blog does focus on being a healthier eater, so if highlighting these makes someone think twice about taking an extra spoonful, I think it's worth the kerfuffle it may cause.


  1. 1. Cookies w/out raisins? Have you never heard of Oatmeal Raisin cookies? Are you mad?

    2. Jello shots, College Allison & 'keep it classy'; this one made me giggle profusely

    3. I love this thing called Strawberry Pretzel Salad, but really it's not a salad, it's a dessert. It's a pretzel base, sweetened cream cheese layer, topped with a strawberries & gelatin layer. It's lovely. And delicious. But not a salad.

    4. Gumdrop Salad? I think I just erpped a little. And then I read that you like Dots. And I erpped a lot. PS - that Ru-Paul comment made me snort Dr Pepper out my nose. HySTERical!

    5. You said kerfluffle. :)

    1. 1) It took me years to accept oatmeal cookies as valid.
      2) I try to keep things classy whenever possible, even when doing Jello shots.
      3) I have seen the strawberry pretzel concoction, but I had thought it was called a "dessert dip." I might be OK with it save the Jello (again).
      4) Dots are the weirdest weakness I have, as I'm not a fan of most things with that consistency. But give me a box, and I will Take. Them. Down. I thought my RuPaul comment was witty, too, and I loooooove RuPaul. She puts a whole new spin on fabulous. She can work it. I'd go shopping with her.
      5) One of my favorite funny words. :)