This dish is one of my favorites and was a staple at our house during various holiday meals. Before we dig into the particulars for this recipe let’s go ahead and address the elephant in the room… As its name implies, it is a salad; therefore, it’s okay to eat during the meal and it doesn’t count as dessert. I have no idea where this dish originated, though no doubt in some Southern kitchen as it combines some classic Southern features: it’s a potluck style dish and is a sort of jello salad.
While this recipe does take a little time, it is really easy to make. You just need to be patient and not rush to layer things, otherwise you’ll end up with a mess. I focus on the crust first as it needs to cool before you can put the cream cheese/whipped topping layer on. I still haven’t perfected the crust portion yet and feel like it doesn’t come out as crunchy as I would like, maybe this is just how the recipe is? I need to play around with this in the future to see if adjusting the butter helps, but you could easily make this GF by using GF pretzels or use a pecan/walnut crust, which I think would taste really great as well.
The middle layer is just cream cheese, whipped topping, and sugar. We’ve always cut back on the sugar a little (I think we use 3/4 cup instead of 1 cup) and you could easily cut back more if you wanted. The sugar just takes the bite out of the cream cheese so it can be adapted based on your preference. I think we tried using Splenda one time and it worked fairly well too, so again, this dish can be adjusted to be a little better for you if you wanted.
The strawberry jello and frozen strawberries layer is usually the most difficult and there are a few things that can go wrong here. First, you must really stir the hot water and jello mix. If you don’t, you’ll end up with weird clumps of gelatin throughout this layer that will be chewy and not pleasant. Once I’ve whisked the jello and hot water together I add the sliced strawberries (frozen strawberries work great, but you could use fresh too). I put this in the fridge to gel up a little before pouring it onto the cream cheese/whipped topping layer. You want it to start getting fairly thick before pour it on but you don’t want it to full thicken otherwise it’ll be more difficult to pour it on.
It’s best to do this several hours before eating, as you’ll want the jello to finish setting up before eating. We’ve always made this dish the day before, which makes it super easy to bring to a family meal.
That’s it – fairly easy and very adaptable if you’re looking to make it more low carb, sugar-free, etc. The sweet is balanced by the saltiness of the pretzels making for a delicious side!
Update April 4, 2021: It’s Easter again so no surprise that I’m making this again. I decided to try and make a walnut crust this time just to see how it turned out. I played around with the ingredients so probably used 2 cups of pretty finely chopped walnuts and melted butter. I really liked the way this paired with the rest of the dish but I would double the amount of walnuts used as I think it could have done with a little more crunchy part to enhance the texture.
Recipe Used: There are a ton of recipes online for this recipe and they’re all about the same, but if you want to try this recipe for yourself here’s a recipe that looks like the one we use.