Mention Ambrosia to anybody from Down South and you'll conjure up images of a sweet treat--a Cool-Whip based dessert that has some fruit and coconut thrown in. Oranges (canned mandarin orange slices), pineapple (canned, crushed), cherries (maraschino)--oh, and mini marshmallows are all necessary ingredients. And coconut. Here are some pics from an image search for Ambrosia Salad:
My mom's spin on this regional fave was to add pistashio pudding powder to the Cool-Whip. You get what I'm talking about, right? Buy a box of Jell-O pistashio-flavored pudding, and instead of making pudding with it, just mix the powder into the Cool-Whip.
As kids, we adored this dessert. And the irony that it's called Ambrosia Salad will not be lost on anybody who has visited the South or the Heartland. My friend Elizabeth likes to tell the story about one of her first visits to her husband's Pennsylvania kin--at a mid-day outdoor picnic she was asked to go inside and get the salad. She wandered around the kitchen, mystefied by the lack of anything involving lettuce...turns out she was supposed to fetch something like this:
Gourmet Today has updated Ambrosia by stripping it down to the flavor essentials of citrus and coconut. On the face of it this looks easy, except it involves a real coconut--not a bag of the shredded, sweetened stuff.
Coconuts are not always around in the markets here, but I had recently seen coconuts in a display case when I was lunching at Rawbert's Organic Garden Cafe and figured I could buy one there. These coconuts are prepped by (I guess) somebody hacking away the outer green shell but leaving some of the husk that protects the brown shell and good stuff inside. This somebody with a machete also cuts a star pattern in the top which helps you get inside. I'm speculating, but it helped me.
Once I drained the water (and drank it--yummy!) I was at a loss as to how to best open this thing--the recipe has you bake the coconut and then crack it with a hammer, but they were talking about the brown coconut you'd buy in a market. I had a slightly different and better protected beast on my hands.
Finally I just went with the hammer approach and used the claw end to pry my way in.
I'm not sure if you can tell from the pic, but this coconut was soft and pliable--totally different from any coconut product I'd ever seen. It reminded me of a floppy latex mold. The recipe asks you to shred the coconut but that would be impossible unless I put some effort into dehydrating it first. I decided to julienne it as thinly as I could.
The rest is easy, a little sugar and some cream sherry (because everything is better with booze.) I made this dessert for my meditation group--we have a lunchtime potluck afterwards and one of the members is gluten-sensitive. It could have been the post-meditation high, but I thought it was delicious.