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.

Paleo Ambrosia Salad with pineapple, raspberries, coconut, and pecans |

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 with pineapple, raspberries, coconut, and pecans |

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.

For more of my stories and recipes like this one, subscribe to Paleo Magazine.

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  • Amy says:

    Wow, a blast from the past that makes me think of summer cook outs at my grandparents. I can’t wait to try this!

  • Joyce skipper says:

    Do you need to bake the coconut if your using shredded ?

  • Emily says:

    You know, I never liked that ambrosia salad…one of my aunts made it for all our family dinners. Hers was the version with Cool Whip, mandarin oranges, marshmallows, maraschino cherries…ya know, ZERO real food? But made with all Southern love?

    But for some reason I was feeling nostalgic for those family dinners and made this salad for lunch today. Holy crumb cakes, was it good!!! My whole family loved it, and with my husband and four kids, that’s amazingness right there. It is what the ambrosia salad of yore aspired to be. Thank you, thank you!

    • I never liked the kind with the marshmallows, either! I’m so glad you gave this recipe a shot, and very happy that it was a hit with your family.

      Happy summer!

  • Sharon Cathey says:

    Been a fan/follower since before your first book. Just wanted to chime in to say I sure am happy for you, the way everything has taken off…new newsletter, book sales, magazine, et al. Wishing you strength and peace for the journey…because I’m sure it will continue to grow and get ‘crazy’ at times. God bless you!.

  • Deb says:

    Can’t wait to try this version. I made the winter version with cranberries and it was the bomb!

  • christy says:

    I am going to try this with some shrimp or crab in it….I ‘be been looking for something “fruity and sweet” to make a summery seafood salad with…so I think I will use this…


  • Nikki says:

    I made this for a potluck yesterday and it tasted delicious! It didn’t look as nice as yours because, for some unknown reason, the pineapple went from freshly cut to looking overripe in less than and hour. It didn’t look very appetizing thereafter. I happily took the rest home; still tastes great.

  • Adam Trainor says:

    I can’t say I have ever tried an ambrosia salad but I am up for trying new things so I will give it ago. It’s definitely a nice summer dish to have. Can you use different fruit in it?

    • I haven’t tried it with fruits other than the ones listed, but there’s no reason you couldn’t swap stuff in and out. I went the more traditional route.

      • Adam Trainor says:

        Ok great. I will try your recipe first the traditional way and then I will experiment with it, swapping things in and out. This could be fun

  • Amy says:

    Made this yesterday from pre-shredded coconut and it was delicious! My coconut whipped cream didn’t get super fluffy, maybe because my kitchen was so warm. Also, the entire thing turned beige though it tasted fine. Oxidation maybe?

  • Suzanna says:

    Added a light dash of cardamom and cinnamon, as you have in some other of your sweet plates, it was amazing! Definitely light and fresh, perfect for summer.

  • Sarah says:

    This looks so yummy, I’m heading to the store now for ingredients!