Frog Eye Salad Is A Sweet Pasta Dish Beloved In The American West

Regional foods are endlessly interesting and simultaneously controversial. After all, foods don't seem strange if you've grown up eating them, but other people's ideas about "traditional" foods may seem positively unexpected to some. When the New York Times published a piece in 2014 about the most unusual Thanksgiving recipes googled in every U.S. state, there were some mighty interesting entries. 

Some searches made perfect sense, like Oregon's vegan mushroom gravy and Arizona's turkey enchiladas. Other states served up head-scratching results for those not familiar with the regional dishes, like North Carolina's pig pickin' cake and Utah's funeral potatoes. But perhaps the most interesting entry came from a total of four states — Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, and Wyoming all had residents looking for recipes for frog eye salad. 

And frog eye salad, it turns out, isn't just a Thanksgiving delicacy. It's commonplace among states in the western U.S. and we just had to learn more about it.

What exactly is frog eye salad?

According to Atlas Obscura, frog eye salad is a sweet pasta salad that's typically served as a side, rather than a dessert. That puts it in the same category, roughly, as the better known ambrosia or Watergate salads, which include whipped topping and crushed pineapple, just as frog eye salad.

But frog eye salad is a pasta salad — a sweet pasta salad that isn't something most of us have ever encountered. Frog eye salad specifically includes cooked acini de pepe pasta, according to Chelsea's Messy Apron, which makes it unique. While there are lots of variations on the basic frog eye salad recipe, the pasta is critical as it's the reason the salad has its name.

The cooked acini de pepe pasta, when combined with all the other ingredients, looks a bit like frog eyes. As Atlas Obscura puts it, "The pasta gives the salad a lumpy texture that a cynical eater could compare to a clumpy pile of frog eyes." Appetizing? Perhaps not — unless you grew up in one of those western states where the dish is popular.

How do you make frog eye salad?

According to Matador Network, frog eye salad is generally acknowledged to have originated in the Mormon community and spread throughout the western region, where it regularly appears at potluck affairs, funerals, and family reunions. Making it is a little more involved than Watergate salad, but it's a wonderful make-ahead side dish.

All Recipes explains that making frog eye salad begins with a simple custard made of pineapple juice, eggs, sugar, salt, and flour, all cooked over medium heat until thickened. The custard is chilled, combined with the cooked and chilled acini de pepe pasta, and canned pineapple, canned mandarin oranges, and whipped topping are stirred in. The mixture is refrigerated overnight, or for at least eight hours. Just before serving, shredded coconut and mini marshmallows are stirred in. 

Other variations of the recipe feature, per No Biggie, the additions of sliced bananas, maraschino cherries, and sliced strawberries, as well as cream cheese for a smoother texture.