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Paleo Ambrosia Salad
In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I share the story of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier Paleo lifestyle. In a recent issue, I shared a recipe that’s a great addition to your summer potluck season: the beloved Southern classic Ambrosia Salad.
It seemed only appropriate to adapt the classic Ambrosia Salad to fit the Paleo template.
According to Greek legend, the god’s maintained their immortality by eating Ambrosia, and courageous mortals who consumed this sweet sustenance soon find themselves in robust health with increased strength. Sounds a lot like the benefits of Paleo to me.
In our near history, cooks have been creating their own versions of Ambrosia since the late 1800s when citrus fruit became more readily available in markets across the U.S. At its simplest, this staple of church socials and potluck tables is a sweet combination of orange slices, coconut, and sugar, all layered in a glass serving dish.
As the years passed, Southern aunties and grannies differentiated their contributions in the buffet line from their neighbors’ by adding other fruits and nuts: grapefruit, maraschino cherries, bananas, pineapple, raisins, pistachios, pecans, and marshmallows. Many recipes from vintage ladies’ magazines — the ones read while getting one’s hair “done” at the neighborhood beauty parlor — call for canned fruit and rely on Cool-Whip or instant pudding (!) to hold it all together. The result is a nostalgic throwback to a sugary past.
For this version, I wanted to update the classic with brighter flavors and a more modern nutritional sensibility. I kept the taste crisp with fresh fruit: navel oranges, pineapple, and raspberries. I added a not-so-Southern spin with freshly grated, toasted coconut and coconut milk whipped with a touch of vanilla. The result is lightly sweet, creamy, nutty, and all-together satisfying. Nectar of the gods, for mortals like us.
Paleo Ambrosia Salad
Serves 8-10 | Prep 25 minutes | Assemble 15 minutes
This recipe requires a bit of forethought: place a can (14.5 ounces) of full fat coconut milk in the refrigerator, ideally overnight, but 3-4 hours will do.
1 cup raw pecans or pistachios
1 fresh coconut*
6 navel oranges
1 cup red raspberries or pitted bing cherries
2 cups pineapple chunks, fresh or canned (packed in its own juice and drained)
1 (14.5 ounces) can coconut milk (Thai Kitchen works best.)
1 tablespoon coconut sugar or honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
*If you’re not up for the adventure of using a fresh coconut, you can use 1 cup of unsweetened, dried, shredded coconut instead.
Heat the oven to 350F. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper
Crack the coconut! Place the coconut on a kitchen towel for traction. Pierce the three “eye” holes on top of the coconut by gently tapping a clean screwdriver with a hammer. This is much easier than it seems. Drain the water from the coconut and put it in the oven, directly on the oven rack, for 10 minutes. Remove the coconut from the oven, wrap it in a kitchen towel, place it in the sink, and smack it with a hammer to crack the shell. The white coconut meat should easily pop out of the thick husk. You can either remove the thin brown skin with a vegetable peeler or leave it on. Grate the coconut in a food processor or with a box grater.
Spread 1 cup of the shredded coconut on half of the baking sheet. Place the pecans on the other half of the baking sheet. Toast in the oven until slightly browned, about 5-8 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool while you prepare the fruit.
Use a sharp knife to peel the oranges, removing all of the bitter white pulp and the membrane on the outside of the orange sections. With your fingers, separate the orange into sections and cut them into 1-inch pieces. Place in a large bowl. Add the pineapple and raspberries, then toss gently with a rubber scraper to combine. (You might want to reserve a few raspberries for garnish!)
Coarsely chop the toasted pecans, then add them to the bowl of fruit, along with the toasted coconut.
Gently turn the can of coconut milk upside down and open the bottom with a can opener. Pour off any liquid that’s separated and scoop the thickened coconut milk into the bowl of a standing mixer. Add the coconut sugar and the vanilla extract. Whip on your mixer’s highest setting until the milk is fluffy and has taken on the texture of whipped cream, about 5-7 minutes.
Gently fold the whipped coconut milk into the fruit. Allow the flavors to meld 10 minutes before eating. Place in a serving dish and garnish with additional raspberries and nuts. The salad should stay fresh, covered in the fridge, for 3-4 days.