How To Make the Best Ambrosia Salad

updated Nov 22, 2019
Ambrosia Salad

Ambrosia, a sweet fruit salad popular in the South, combines pineapple, cherries, and oranges with mini marshmallows, coconut, and a creamy sour cream dressing.

Serves6 to 8

Prep25 minutes

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Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

If you’re not familiar with ambrosia, it’s a unique, sweet fruit salad that combines pineapple, cherries, and oranges with a sprinkling of mini marshmallows, coconut, and pecans. The whole thing gets dressed in a creamy sour cream dressing. Each bite is a surprisingly incredible mix of tartness, sweetness, creaminess, fluffiness, and crunch. It’s also a staple at Southern holiday tables.

One of ambrosia’s best qualities is that it can be made in advance. It pairs well with savory sides, and is just as welcome at a potluck as it is at the holiday table. Here’s a little about ambrosia salad, and how to make it.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Where Did Ambrosia Salad Originate?

Ambrosia literally translates to “immortality” in Greek. Many people associate it with ancient Greek mythology, where it’s referenced as the food of the gods. In the South, ambrosia salad simply means a feast is about to be shared — you’ll often see big bowls of it on Easter brunch tables and Thanksgiving buffets alike.

According to Serious Eats, up until the early 1900s, before pineapple and other luxury ingredients like whipped cream became widely available, ambrosia salad was a more simple mix of citrus fruit, sugar, and (sometimes) coconut. Later, marshmallows became a “novelty” and were added to the ever-evolving recipe.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

The Best Ambrosia Salad

Our ambrosia salad definitely nods to nostalgia — there are mini marshmallows and canned pineapple — while also keeping things tasty and easy on the home cook (like using canned cherries instead of fresh). Here are a few tips for the very best ambrosia.

  • Toast the pecans to protect their crunch. Pecans are a must for Southern ambrosia salad. Toasting them before adding them in prevents them from getting soggy as they sit in the cream dressing.
  • Use fresh oranges, but opt for canned cherries and pineapple. The cherry part of ambrosia salad is too sweet when maraschino cherries are used, but too dull if off-season fresh cherries are used. Using canned tart cherries easily solves this problem and means you can have a very good ambrosia any time of year.
  • Make a lightly sweetened dressing of whipped cream and sour cream. To balance out the sweetness of the fruit and mini marshmallows, a lightly sweetened whipped cream and sour cream dressing is ideal for ambrosia. If you like, plain Greek yogurt can be used in place of sour cream.
Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Storing and Serving Ambrosia Salad

Ambrosia salad is better when it’s made ahead — just wait to add the marshmallows and pecans until a few hours before serving. As for serving it, it’s just as welcome alongside your regular holiday feast as it is a part of dessert — traditionally, ambrosia was served alongside sliced pound cake and coffee after a heavy meal, but I find ambrosia to be the perfect light and bright addition to any part of a meal.

Credit: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne
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Ambrosia salad is a sweet fruit salad that is perfect for your holiday table or potluck.

Ambrosia Salad

Ambrosia, a sweet fruit salad popular in the South, combines pineapple, cherries, and oranges with mini marshmallows, coconut, and a creamy sour cream dressing.

Prep time 25 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 cup

    whole pecans

  • 4 large

    oranges

  • 1 (15-ounce) can

    pineapple chunks (in juice, not syrup)

  • 1 (15-ounce) can

    cherries

  • 3/4 cup

    cold heavy cream

  • 1 tablespoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 cup

    sour cream

  • 2 cups

    mini marshmallows

  • 1/2 cup

    unsweetened coconut flakes

Equipment

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Chef's knife and cutting board

  • Small skillet

  • Plate

  • Large mixing bowl

  • Strainer

Instructions

  1. Toast the pecans. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add 1 cup whole pecans. Toast, stirring occasionally, until the pecans are fragrant and darkened in color, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large plate to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the fruit.

  2. Segment the oranges. Segment 4 large oranges: Working with 1 orange at a time, slice a little off the top and bottom. Stand the orange up on a cut side. Starting at the top and working your way downward, cut the peel, including the pith, from the orange. Hold the orange over a small bowl, and, using a paring knife, slip the knife between one of the segments and the connective membrane. Cut until you reach the middle of the orange, but don’t cut through any of the membrane. Use a scooping motion to turn the knife back on itself, hook under the bottom edge of the citrus segment, and pry it away. The side that is still attached to a membrane will peel away, leaving you with a perfect wedge. Continue on with the next segment. Slide your knife between the membrane and the segment, and then pop the segment out.

  3. Drain the canned fruit. Drain the juices from 1 (15-ounce) can pineapple chunks and 1 (15-ounce) can cherries.

  4. Chop the cooled pecans. Coarsely chop the toasted pecans into small pieces.

  5. Whip the cream and sugar. Pour 3/4 cup cold heavy cream into a large bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer on medium speed until just beginning to thicken, about 3 minutes. Continue to beat while gradually adding 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, then beat until the cream forms medium peaks.

  6. Fold in the sour cream. Gently fold in 1/2 cup sour cream with a wide, flat spatula.

  7. Add the toasted nuts, coconut, and marshmallows. Fold in the toasted pecans, orange segments, 2 cups mini marshmallows, and 1/2 cup coconut flakes until well coated. Add the pineapples and cherries and gently fold in just before serving.

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