Ambrosia Salad

ambrosia title

As much as I am interested in new food trends, there are a few classics–especially those that I grew up with–that will always have a special place on my table.  As a child of the ’90s, some of these dishes waver on that edge of decidedly old-school, especially as we look at cold salads.  Ambrosia is one of those.  I am seeing this creamy fruit salad less and less these days, but, in my mind, ambrosia is one of those quintessential summer dishes.  Due to the lack of vegetables and the inclusion of fruit, it was a universal favorite in my house while I was growing up.  It also made an impression on our extended family (here is the recipe, finally, Lizzie!)  Ambrosia was always a true sign of summer (even though, using the canned options, it can be made almost any time of year that grapes are in stores).

ambrosia fruit

I’ve sampled a few ambrosia salads at various barbecues, either a store-bought salad or by someone else’s recipe.  And I was always disappointed, if not disgusted.  They were always horribly sweet.  There are rules about Ambrosia Salad (in my adamant opinion! 😉 ).  Rule #1: no maraschino cherries.  Listen.  I love maraschino cherries.  Especially the un-natural, bright-red ones.  A visit to any fro-yo place usually ends with most of my money paying for at least one extra ounce of weight made up entirely of half a dozen maraschino cherries.  However, they do not belong in ambrosia salad.  The juice makes it all vaguely pink and the flavor just doesn’t fit.  No maraschinos.  Rule #2: no vanilla.  This is often linked to the third and most important rule: Rule #3: don’t cover the fruit with a sweet topping.  I’ve tried this dish made with whipped cream, cool whip, vanilla yogurt….all of those options will leave your teeth aching and your mouth crying out for water from the sugar.  The marshmallows and the coconut and, you know, all the fruit, provide plenty of sweetness.  Even vanilla extract adds a heaviness to the salad.  You just don’t need it.

In adhering to rule #3, I will finally admit the ingredient that may give you pause.  Yes, the topping that mixes everything together into creamy goodness is…. sour cream.  Gasp!  I know!  Just reminiscent enough of those terrible 1950s recipes calling for mayo and shrimp and jello and other horrors to make you stop and reconsider.  But hear me out:  Sour cream is great here.  The tang balances the sweetness of every other ingredient and after a couple of hours, the marshmallows break down into soft little pockets and the sugar on the outside of the marshmallows has blended with the cream to make the whole thing perfectly sweet.  Yes, I suppose I would allow swapping plain yogurt for the sour cream, if it really rattles you.  But let’s be honest with each other.  Sour cream achieves a texture of delightfully-creamy-without-being-heavy that no other dairy product can.  Greek yogurt would be too thick and heavy, regular yogurt would be too watery, especially combined with the juicy fruit.  Sour cream is the best option.  Just don’t think about it too much and do me a favor: try it with sour cream first.  Trust me.

ambrosia close

I was delighted, in fourth grade, when I started learning about Greek mythology, to learn that ambrosia was the food of the Gods.   Having had this dish for many summers, I couldn’t imagine anything more appropriate to feed Athena, Artemis, Zeus, and Apollo. So try it out…it is the food of the gods, after all!  Not to mention a really great addition to any barbecue or potluck and the perfect option for a summer evening!

ambrosia mixed

Ambrosia Salad

Serves 6-8 | Prep time: 10 min. + resting | Cook time: N/A

  • 1 c. mini marshmallows
  • 1 c. crushed pineapple, drained (or 1 c. fresh, finely chopped)*
  • 1 small can mandarin oranges, drained
  • 1 c. shredded coconut (sweetened is traditional, but unsweetened would be fine)
  • 1 c. grapes (red or green), slice in half
  • 3/4 to 1 c. sour cream**

*My pineapple is fresh, but chopped too large in these photos.  As soon as I took a bite, I knew I should have chopped it much finer, when using it fresh.

**Depending on how juicy the fruit is, you may need less or more.  Gently fold in the smaller amount first, and then decide if you need the rest.

Combine the fruit, marshmallows, and coconut in a large bowl.  Gently fold in sour cream, being careful not to break up the mandarin orange pieces too much.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving, to allow flavors to meld.


Coconut-Creamed Spinach

spinach-title

It doesn’t look like much, but it is totally delicious!

How is your week going?  It seems like everyone either has massive winter storms or unusually spring-like weather.  We are in the latter, with our afternoons reaching almost 70 degrees!  It has been a lovely respite, in a certain sense, but a little unsettling.  It is still February, after all.  Will we even have a winter season this year?

I’ve been starting to think about my garden plans for this year, because the extended forecast is still staying pretty mild!  I think I will be aiming to put a few hearty green seedlings into the ground within the next couple of weeks: swiss chard, kale, etc.  Whatever I can get my hands on, knowing that this isn’t actually planting season.  Normally Home Depot fills my seedling needs, but I may need to venture to an actual garden center to find seedlings.  I also need to check the almanac for the last predicted frost, but I’m feeling pretty confident about planting seeds soon, as well.  I’ve always felt like I start my seeds too late, so this mild winter may be the reason that I finally get them out on time!  I’m still planning to use square foot gardening, but I am expecting to tweak a little from last year’s garden plan.  It was not as successful as my first year, unfortunately. I didn’t really get any onions or carrots last year, and I bought tomato plants that were too big for my box.  This year, though, I’ll learn from those mistakes!

spinach-pan

I am also dreaming of a patio makeover.  And I am determined to make those dreams a reality!  Our patio is the one part of our apartment that I’ve also felt was a little neglected, so I’ve been saving up a few dollars here and there for a cheap update!  Some actual decor, perhaps a few pillows, maybe some new (cheap) chairs, and a new grill!  I will keep you posted on our progress!

This Spring weather also has us see-sawing back and forth between comforting winter meals and lighter Spring ones.  Which is why I keep finding my meal plans full of slow-cooked, heavily spiced Indian dishes and soups…or sushi.  Haha!  On Sunday, I let myself play in creating a big vegetarian, Indian meal.  I had wanted to make Paneer cheese again (I’d give myself about an 85% success rate with this batch…insufficient draining, I think) and we had potatoes and cauliflower to make Aloo Gobi, so I rounded things out with a batch of Coconut-Creamed Spinach, which is totally my go-to side dish for any Indian food!  I’ve talked before about how I am working to appreciate cooked greens more and this is one of the few cooked greens dishes that I will always enjoy!  It is so delicious over a bit of rice, creamy and comforting and full of flavor!  Light Indian spices and coconut milk instead of cream give this dish an unexpected twist, without being too overpowering.  A healthy dose of garlic and salt, with a little heat, are still required, just like in regular creamed spinach.

spinach-close-side

Coconut-Creamed Spinach

  • 2 packages frozen spinach, thawed
  • 1 can (15 oz) coconut milk
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. chili flakes
  • 2 tsp. coconut oil
  • salt & pepper

Press the thawed, frozen spinach into a mesh sieve to squeeze as much water as you can from it.  Leave to drain as you cook the onion.  In a sauté pan over medium heat, as the coconut oil and the diced onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened and is mostly translucent.  Add the minced garlic and the spices (garam masala, ginger, cumin, and chili flakes) and stir the whole mixture for about 2 minutes, until the garlic and spices are fragrant.  Add the drained spinach to the pan and stir to combine with the onion.  Pour in about half of the can of coconut milk, stirring until the spinach mixture loosens up and the coconut milk in incorporated into the mix.  Add the remaining coconut milk and simmer the mixture until the desired thickness–the milk should hold together everything: the liquid shouldn’t pool from the greens.  It should only take a few minutes, at most!  Add a hefty pinch of salt and pepper, taste, and add more salt if needed!