Molded gelatin salads have an undeservedly bad reputation. As leftovers from the 1950s and 60s, most people think of molded salads as shivering, wobbly dishes containing combinations like tuna and grapes.
But molded and frozen salads can be wonderful. Substitute unflavored gelatin and fruit juices for brightly colored commercial gelatin products, add fresh fruits—but not pineapple or papaya—or vegetables, and enjoy a cooling breakfast, lunch, dessert, or snack. It's also a great choice to serve during the holidays.
There's a Process
Make sure to soften unflavored gelatin in a bit of cold water, then pour boiling hot water over it and stir until you can't see any gelatin particles at all. Powdered flavored gelatin is dissolved by just pouring boiling water over it and stirring for 3 to 4 minutes. Don't try to rush this process; the gelatin particles must totally disappear for the best results. Scoop up a bit of the mixture in your spoon and examine it closely. If you don't see any particles, you're set. If you're lucky enough to find sheet gelatin, you'll have an easier time since that product dissolves immediately after being softened in cold water.
Fresh or Frozen Items That You Shouldn't Use
Don't use fresh or frozen pineapple, figs, kiwi, guava, or papaya in your molded salads. They contain an enzyme that will dissolve the gelatin protein molecules and your salad will never set.
How to Unmold the Salad
Rinse the salad mold with a bit of cold water before adding the gelatin mixture. You can oil the mold before use, but we don't like the flavor and texture of oil on a molded salad. To unmold the salad, place the mold upside down on a serving plate that has been sprinkled with some cold water. Then dip a kitchen towel in very warm water, wring it out, and place it on the outside of the mold. After a few seconds, remove the towel and gently shake the mold. The salad should slip right out. You can repeat this process if the salad doesn't remove easily. Sometimes loosening the edges of the salad from the mold with the tip of a knife helps get air between the mold and the salad and makes unmolding easier.
Make Them Small
If you fear to try to unmold a magnificent crenelated 6 or 8 cup salad, just get out those little Pyrex cups left over from when your kids were babies and make individual servings. Your kids will love these individual mini salads.