Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Autumn ambrosia

Ambrosia salad is typically a mix of canned fruit cocktail, miniature marshmallows, canned orange segments, sweetened coconut, and nuts swimming in whipped topping and sometimes even mayonnaise. As you may imagine, this doesn’t sound terribly appetizing to me. However, the concept of fruit and cream with coconut and chopped nuts is pretty close to heaven, so I set out to give this dish a makeover. While we never had it growing up, apparently it’s somewhat traditional on Thanksgiving, so I thought it would be a nice holiday post. You can serve this as a side dish, or put it out with dessert for an option with natural sweetness but no added sugar.

I wanted to leverage fresh, seasonal fruit rather than opening a bunch of cans. I settled on persimmons, pomegrante, and citrus, all of which are in abundance right now. In fact, I gathered the fruit for this dish by biking around, picking fruit, and stowing it in my front basket. For a dairy-free option which doesn’t involve Cool Whip (yes, it’s dairy-free...creepy) or mayonniase I whipped up some chilled coconut cream. This is a nice step-by-step photo tutorial so that you can visualize how it’s done. Finally, I folded in fresh grated coconut and toasted walnuts. Desiccating a whole coconut was a major pain, but it definitely made a difference. You can certainly substitute bagged coconut flakes if you’d like to save on time and effort. I used walnuts since I always see these guys at the farmer’s market, but pecans would be a fantastic alternative.

You can choose pretty much any citrus you’d like, but I recommend selecting something on the sweet side since we’re not adding any sugar or marshmallows. I love the flavor of grapefruit but the sweetness can range quite a bit, so only use grapefruit if you’re sure that your fruit is sweet rather than bitter. Alternately, use orange or tangerines. Pomelo, blood orange, or cara cara orange would also be some exotic seasonal choices.

Serves 6-8

  • 1 can coconut milk, chilled for several hours or preferably overnight (I have personally gotten this to work with Thai Kitchen and Savoy brands, and I have seen it done with Native Forest, but I cannot vouch for any others)
  • 1 cup pomegranate arils (about 2 small pomegranates or 1 large)
  • 1 cup very ripe fuyu persimmion, peeled and cut into chunks (about 5 persimmions)
  • 1 cup orange or grapefruit segments, halved crosswise (I used 1.5 grapefruits; see recipe description for more information on choosing citrus)
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • 1 cup freshly-grated coconut or unsweetened coconut flakes
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground nutmeg


  1. Ensure that the can of coconut milk is very cold. Prep all of your fruit and have it ready to go. Take the mixing bowl and beaters that you will be using for the coconut cream and put them in the freezer.
  2. Toast the walnuts or pecans in a large, dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant but not burnt. Spread out on a plate and set in the refrigerator to cool.
  3. Flip the can of coconut milk upside-down and open the bottom of the can. Pour off the liquid. Plop the coconut milk solids in the chilled mixing bowl and beat with an electric whisk attachment until the consistency of whipped cream. Add the spices and beat for a few seconds to combine.
  4. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the fruit, coconut, and toasted nuts.
  5. Chill for several hours or overnight. Serve cold


Amy @ Experience Imagination said...

Mmmmm ... We did eat the Cool-Whip-and-canned-fruit version when I was a kid and I thought it was yummy at the time. But it is actually kind of revolting, isn't it? Your version sounds delicious!

Also, a note on Cool Whip, from what I understand, it's dairy free in the legal sense (that is free of lactose), but not actually dairy free in the logical sense (i.e., not containing any milk products). Labeling laws are so absurd.

Andi Houston said...

This looks so amazing, and I actually have all of the ingredients here in my kitchen!

Erica said...

Amy: I did not know that about Cool Whip, agreed that labeling laws are strange! Since I kept kosher for a long time, I knew that Cool Whip is considered pareve (neither meat nor dairy), which makes my skin crawl D:

Andi: Way cool that you have all those yummy fruits in your kitchen! :)

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