Recipe Makeover, Turning a Dixie Dessert Into a Summer Salad

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Ambrosia is a sweet Southern dessert most often served around the winter holidays. But frankly, my dear, I see it differently. My version transforms this dessert into a slightly savory summertime main dish salad.

Summer Fruit Salad_04As in traditional ambrosia, I use orange and coconut, but I skip the third historic ingredient, sugar.  And what about the marshmallows and maraschino cherries that all you Scarletts and Rhetts recall?

I love tracing a recipe’s roots.  Ambrosia’s history is pure Americana. It originated in the 1860s as an elegant and luxurious Dixie dessert made solely with three ingredients considered exotic and tropical—oranges, coconut, and sugar.  Still in that vein, later recipes add pineapple and banana.  Then after WWI, when creamy marshmallow whip, and eventually individual marshmallows, were invented (in Philadelphia!), they joined the mix. Sometimes whipped or liquid cream was added, too, giving ambrosia a creamy look.

Even though Ambrosia became known from Portland to Philadelphia, it has remained mainly a Southern dish most popular at Christmastime. In the gourmet-crazed 1950s, tinkering with the recipe took off as cooks added everything from pecans and maraschino cherries to mayonnaise, sour cream or cream cheese. Now, with chefs creatively reinventing dishes, I have found versions with blood oranges, cucumber, jalapeños, or avocado, which is at least another tropical fruit.

For a summer salad that is a light meal, I created this take on ambrosia.  It uses tropical pineapple and coconut plus juicy summer fruits—berries and melon.  Of course there is an orange, but in the dressing, along with cottage cheese. With no oil in the dressing, I use deliciously creamy full-fat cottage cheese, which adds less than a gram of saturated fat. A splash of balsamic vinegar gives a little kick and a touch of sweetness.  Just looking at this salad presented on a bed of tender butter or Boston lettuce cools you.

One thing to watch—if the orange is large, use only a third of it in the dressing or it will be too runny.  Slice and add the rest of the orange to the fruit. Also combine the fruit just before serving so the dressing clings.

Here’s the recipe: Summer Fruit Salad with Creamy Orange Dressing


Author: Dana Jacobi

Dana Jacobi takes a fresh look at deliciously healthy food. Her Something Different recipes are inspired by local produce, the seasons, and bold ethnic flavors. She is the author of fifteen cookbooks, six for Williams-Sonoma. Cooking Light, O:The Oprah Magazine, The New York Times and many other publications have featured her articles. A devoted teacher, her classes feature recipes along with technique, also a frequent subject in her personal blog at, and in her books. She lives in New York City where she shops its many Greenmarkets and loves exploring the city’s varied neighborhoods. She is also an addicted knitter.

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