For any number of years at Thanksgiving dinner I made a Jell-O salad with peach flavor(I think Jell-O used to produce a peach flavor, but in more recent years I’ve found only somebody else’s brand instead), filled with apples, celery and walnuts. My mother used to make a frozen fruit cocktail kind of salad with peeled grapes, of all things, mixed with whipped cream and frozen in a can, then sliced into a large discs and served on a lettuce leaf. I thought it was too rich, so when I began cooking the big feast I changed to other things. That’s when the Jell-O salad hit my radar back in the 1960’s. And it stayed there for a whole lot of years.
Why did I make Jell-O? Well, it was something I could make ahead; it wasn’t heavy; it had a sweet hint to it so it fit in with the turkey meal quite well; and it also offered crunch. When you think about it . . . follow along with me here . . . what else is on the plate? Turkey? Soft. Dressing? Soft. Mashed Potatoes? Soft. Sweet potatoes? Soft. Gravy? Really Soft. Peas maybe? Soft. Maybe a corn casserole? Very soft. Rolls maybe? Soft. See where I’m going here? Everything else about Thanksgiving is soft food. Tasty, but without much texture. So I liked the bit of crunch offered by the apple, celery and nuts in the gelatin salad. But then one of our grown daughters begged for a green salad. She loves green salad. Okay, so I made green salad, even though I didn’t exactly think a garden salad went with the meal all that well, but it was okay. Lots of people did eat it. I didn’t make both a green and a gelatin salad, though. So for some years I’ve made green salad as our only side salad.
Until this year, that is. This new recipe will be a part of my Thanksgiving dinner. It is so festive. And colorful! It is crunchy (from the apples and pecans). Much of it can be made ahead too. Although you do have to compose it just before serving, that’s all. I suppose you could just mix this all up together, but it would lose something, I think. Some people wouldn’t get many cranberries; others would get too many apples, or nary any. And it definitely wouldn’t be as pretty as the individual plated version. I’ll be able to assign the assembly task to one of our dinner guests.
Kitchen Tip about Apples:
To keep apples from turning brown, put them in a bowl and cover with Sprite (not Diet). They will keep at room temp for 4-5 hours. Just drain it off when you’re ready to finish whatever you’re cooking. And the apples don’t care that the Sprite has lost its fizz – it’s the citric acid that does the deed, not the fizz.
The recipe for this salad came from a Thanksgiving cooking class with Phillis Carey. That woman is a wonder – she comes up with the most interesting ideas, this being one of them. The lime juice dressing was perfect for it. And again Phillis shared a kitchen tip with us that I keep forgetting. Did you know that if you want to keep apples from getting brown you just cover the chopped fruit or slices with Sprite. Yes, Sprite, the carbonated beverage. Not Diet Sprite, but the real stuff. And Phillis assured us that the apples keep at room temp for 4-5 hours without getting brown. Then you pour out the Sprite. She keeps a big bottle of it in her spare refrigerator. Stale Sprite. The apples don’t care that it doesn’t have any more fizz in it. You can’t use Diet – it doesn’t contain citric acid. Neither does 7-Up, or any other lemon-lime soda. Just SPRITE! So I now have a small stash of Sprite in my pantry. I just keep forgetting this great kitchen gem.
So anyway, back to this salad. Phillis calls it layered because it is sort-of layered on the plate. There’s a lettuce layer on the bottom, the apple pecan layer (you drain off the Sprite and discard it) on top of that, kind of in a flat mound in the middle, then you make a small well in the middle of the apples and spoon in a bit of the fresh cranberry/sugar mixture that sat overnight in the refrigerator. That’s it. The apple mixture can be prepared ahead (remember, Sprite soaking), the pecans toasted and chopped, the green onions sliced ahead, even the salad mixture too. The dressing would be best whisked together just before serving, BUT have all the ingredients handy and it should take no more than about 2 minutes to whisk it up. Half goes on the apples (drained of their Sprite), the other half on the lettuce. I’m telling you, this salad is a must fix. Even for some other time of year if you have access to cranberries!
Cranberry, Apple Pecan Layered Salad
Recipe By: A cooking class with Phillis Carey
Serving Size: 8
2 cups fresh cranberries — coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 large Granny Smith apples — peeled, cored, coarsely chopped About a cup of Sprite beverage (not Diet)
1 1/3 cups pecans — toasted (350 6-10 minutes) and chopped
1/3 cup green onions — sliced
2 heads Romaine lettuce — torn in bite sized pieces
1. Pick through the cranberries and throw out any soft or unripe ones. Combine in a bowl the coarsely chopped cranberries and sugar. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for about 24 hours.
2. Place apples in a small bowl. If you’re doing this ahead, cover the apples in Sprite beverage and set aside. The apples will stay firm and bright for 4-5 hours in the liquid. When ready to proceed with recipe, drain off the Sprite (and discard), then add the green onions to the apples.
3. In a medium bowl whisk lime juice and mustard. Add oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Pour half the dressing on the apples. Then add the pecans.
4. Toss the lettuce with the remainder of the dressing.
5. To serve, divide lettuce among salad plates and top it with the apple mixture. Keep apples together in a small sort-of flattish shape (not sprinkled all over the lettuce). Make a small well in the center of the apples and spoon in the cranberry mixture.
Per Serving: 390 Calories; 33g Fat (71.8% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 24g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 42mg Sodium.