A potluck classic, this Frog Eye Salad will disappear off the buffet table before anyone has a chance to discuss the origin of its unusual name.
Don’t attempt to adjust your screen – you read that correctly: we’re making Frog Eye Salad.
This is not a Halloween teaser post, nor were there any frogs harmed during the making of this recipe. There will be happy faces when your family and friends try this for the first time, though, and you can happily oblige your kiddos when they start making special requests for that salad with the eyeballs in it.
Frog Eye Salad is a light and creamy dream, with delicate touches of color, tangy, sweet bits of fruit, and an unbelievable texture that makes you think of clouds and fluffy bunnies, not little green hopping amphibians.
I’ll try to start a campaign to change this to “Fluffy-bunnies-and-clouds-salad,” but in the meantime let’s just talk about what makes this such an amazing recipe instead of why it has such a, well, odd name.
Frog eye salad history dates back to the beginning of the dessert salad days when I suspect some reluctant dieter wanted the satisfaction of having a “salad” for dinner without acknowledging its primary ingredients of Jello, whipped cream, and marshmallows.
Think Strawberry Pretzel Salad, fruit fluffs, and the southern staple, Ambrosia.
Frog Eye Salad is like the Ambrosia of the Midwest/Pacific Coast, and it gets its name from a petite, pearl-sized pasta called acini di pepe that, I suppose, does resemble frog-sized eyeballs.
What is Frog Eye Salad made of?
If you just scan the frog eye salad Pinterest page photos, you might think this is just another tapioca pudding with some orange slices mixed in, but there’s a lot more going on inside!
This wonderful salad with the unusual name starts with the acini di pepe pasta which, when cooked, is similar in size and texture to tapioca (some recipes even make frog eye salad with tapioca).
There’s lots of canned fruit – mandarin oranges are required, marshmallows, plus a combination of creamy custard lightened with whipped topping or cream. Dessert or salad, who cares? Let’s just call it delicious!
It all starts with that tiny pasta . . .
How do you cook acini di pepe pasta?
Although the name acini di pepe, which is Italian for “pepper berries,” may not sound familiar, you’ve probably had it in chicken or other soups. The pasta itself looks like tiny little tubes with a hole running through the middle, and it’s used a lot like couscous to make savory, cold pasta salads or warm dishes similar to risotto.
To cook it, you’ll boil a big pot of water, with just a touch of salt, just like you would when cooking any other type of pasta.
The difference for this particular recipe is that I’m going to break all the rules and laws when it comes to cooking pasta and tell you to overcook it.
Yes, this is one of the few times I suggest cooking the pasta past al dente since I want it to be nice and soft in this salad. We’re NOT looking for mushy here, but you want to boil it for a good 10 minutes to make sure the final texture adds to the creamy consistency of the salad instead of creating that “bite” you’re usually after when you cook pasta.
Once it’s perfect, rinse it under cold water to preserve that texture without going into the soggy froggy zone.
How do you make Frog Eye Salad?
Now that we have our pasta all set, we can make the salad!
Some recipes for frog eye salad start with a homemade custard (like the frog eye salad Six Sisters bloggers have on their website), and it’s definitely the way to go if you have the time and patience for the slow-cooking, tempering, and cooling a homemade custard requires.
I prefer to take a little help from the grocery store here and use a vanilla pudding mix.
The texture’s perfect for this salad, the flavor’s on point, and it’ll save a ton of time. Just don’t forget to reserve some of your pineapple juice to mix in.
True confession? I’ve forgotten, and you may too, but don’t panic. If you have some orange juice on hand, you can mix in ¼ cup into the pudding as a substitute.
Once the pudding’s set, we’ll load this Frog Eye Salad with fruit cocktail and other canned fruit.
In addition to chunks of pineapple, I like to add some crushed since it’ll get suspended with the pasta in this creamy concoction and ensure some pineapple flavor in every bite.
I also like to reserve a couple of the mandarin orange pieces to garnish the top of the salad (you can also buy an extra can if you need to garnish the tops of individual servings).
We’ll lighten the mixture with Cool Whip.
Although you can make frog eye salad with whipping cream, whipped and sweetened, I find it’s a little less stable than this salad needs. I’m a passionate advocate for using the fresh stuff, but the store-bought (time-saving) whipped topping works best in my particular recipe for Frog Eye Salad.
Next comes the marshmallows. These squishy, sweet little pillows help the Cool Whip lighten the mixture, and it’s such a fun textural surprise when you take your first bite. They really help make this salad a fluffy fantasy.
To add a little more color and fruity flavor, I like to use the pastel “FunMallows” too.
Fun AND festive!
Speaking of texture, you’ll also need some shredded coconut. I love the tropical flair this adds to the Frog Eye Salad, and pineapple and coconut are a match made in heaven, but I know everyone’s not a fan.
You’ll be happy to know not every recipe includes it, so if you have an aversion, feel free to omit it.
Since you’ve already chilled all the ingredients, this salad is ready to serve at this point, but it’ll definitely keep several hours (even overnight) in the fridge until you’re ready.
You can mix this up in a regular bowl and serve in parfait glasses or use a giant trifle dish to show off all the beautiful flecks of color throughout the salad. I like to garnish the top with Reddi-wip, reserved mandarin oranges, and a sprinkling of extra coconut.
Even if you choose to just eat it directly out of the dish with a spoon, my Frog Eye Salad (remember, think “Fluffy-bunnies-and-clouds”) will have you signing up for potlucks you don’t even want to attend just for an excuse to make it.
Recipe Notes for Frog Eye Salad:
Go Green – If you like fun colors, you can make a Frog Eye Salad pistachio pudding version. It’s what gives dessert salads like the classic Watergate Salad their lovely green hue plus it fits the whole “froggy” theme. Just replace the vanilla pudding in the recipe with a package of pistachio for negligible changes in flavor and a colorful twist.
Cool it – The pudding really needs the time to set up overnight in the fridge with the pasta so it’s nice and thick when you start adding the fruit. The fruit also needs to be cold, though, so it’ll need to spend some time chilling as well. If you have plenty of space, you can actually just put the cans of fruit into the fridge, then drain them right before you mix everything together (though you’ll need to open the crushed pineapple the day before so you’ll have the juice for mixing into the pudding).
Frog Eye Salad Recipe
- 1 Cup Acini Di Pepe
- 1 3.5 Ounce Box Instant Vanilla Pudding Mix
- 1/2 Cup Sugar
- 1 1/4 Cup Milk
- 1 8 Ounce Can Crushed Pineapple, Drained with Juice Reserved
- 1 20 Ounce Can Pineapple Tidbits, Drained with Juice Discarded
- 1 11 Ounce Cans Mandarin Oranges, Drained with Juice Discarded
- 2 15 Ounce Cans Fruit Cocktail, Drained with Juice Discarded
- 3 Cups Colored Mini Marshmallow
- 1 Cup Shredded Coconut
- 1 8 Ounce Container Cool Whip-Thawed
- Reddi Wip
- Cook pasta in lightly salted rapidly boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain and rinse in cold water. Drain well.
- In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together Instant pudding mix, 1/4 cup reserved pineapple juice, sugar and milk for 2 minutes.
- Add drained pasta to pudding mixture and fold gently until combined. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Place all drained fruit in a bowl or a 1 gallon resealable bag and refrigerate over night.
- When ready to serve, add cold fruit, cool whip, mini marshmallows and coconut to pasta mixture and fold to combine. Serve in a large bowl or individual serving dishes. Top with Reddi Wip if desired.