Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora
By Sanura Weathers of MyLifeRunsOnFood.com
Happy Kwanzaa! Your table is set up with the a kinara. It’s surrounded by lush mazao, fruit symbolizing the reward of productive and collective labor from the harvest. The bananas, oranges, pineapples, mangoes, kiwi, grapes, papaya and other fruit ripens each day during the week of Kwanzaa. As pretty as the fruit looks, a fresh fruit salad needs to be made.
Ambrosia is an old dessert. There’s plenty of fading vintage pictures of it from the 1950s and onward, and it remains a Southern favorite today. The salad is a bit too sweet of a concoction with fresh or canned fruit tossed with sugar. It’s mixed with sour cream and some versions have marshmallows (Let’s not talk about about the aerosol whipped cream versions). The salads rarely look or sound appetizing, but it is/was considered a special dessert during the mid-20th century.
Despite it’s unappetizing beginnings (according to modern taste), when looking at a table covered with mazao, I picture a fruit salad. Not a fast-made fruit salad, but a modern version. In this recipe, the fruit is chopped, toss with a sweet, fragrant mix of rosewater, limes and honey. Cultured dairy or coconut milk yogurt is whipped with heavy cream and specked with vanilla beans. To keep the ambrosia salad fresh, present it in separate bowls of chopped fruit, cultured whipped cream and nuts.
Umoja. The first day of Kwanzaa. It’s about building a community that holds together. As friends and family gather together to reflect the year, discuss values, define future goals over the next week, serve Ambrosia salad with a pot of tea. Maybe a slice of cake. Light the Kinara. Enjoy the mazao.
Mazao Fruit Salad with Cultured Whipped Cream
Ingredients for Ambrosia Fruit Salad
3 to 4 Oranges*
2 cups pineapple cut into ½” thick chunks
1 cup grapes; vertically cut in half; seeds removed**
Optional: Cherries; pit removed and cut in half
Optional: Mango, papaya and/or kiwi chunks; 2 tbsp. pomegranate seeds
1 tsp. minced fresh mint; adjust amount to personal taste
2 bananas; vertically cut into about ½” thick slices
1 apple; peeled, cored and cut into ½” thick chunks + the juice of one lemon
Ingredients for Ambrosia Citrus Juice
The zest and juice of one lime
1 tbsp. rose water
3 tbsp. coconut sugar or honey; adjust amount to personal taste and sweetness of fruit
Ingredients for Cultured Whipped Cream†
2 tbsp. coconut sugar or honey
1/4 cup cultured coconut milk or full-fat, unsweetened and plain Greek yogurt
1 vanilla bean or 2 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup organic whipped cream
Ingredients for Garnish
1 cup roughly chopped toasted nuts (pistachios, almonds or pecans); cooled
1 cup grated fresh coconut (if possible include thin brown skin) or unsweetened large grated dry coconut
To make the Ambrosia Citrus Dressing:
In a small bowl, whisk the zest and juice of one lime, rosewater and two tablespoons coconut sugar/honey. Set aside.
Make the Ambrosia Fruit Salad:
Using a knife, remove the skin and pith. Separate segments and remove seeds (try your best to remove all the seeds).
Lightly toss all the fruit (except bananas, apples and other fruit that easily browns) with the sweet Ambrosia Citrus Juice in a large bowl. Place aside to let marinate for at least an hour or place in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Bring fruit salad out of the refrigerator an hour before serving.
Right before serving, make the Cultured Whipped Cream:
Place two tablespoons of coconut sugar/honey, yogurt, the seeds of a split vanilla bean and whipped cream in a large bowl. Using a handheld electric mixer set on high, whip cream mixture until light and fluffy with soft peaks. Be careful not to overmix. Set bowl aside.
To Plate the Ambrosia Salad:
If using apples, fill a small bowl with water and lemon juice. Strain lemon water from the apples.
Toss the coconut and nuts in a separate small bowl. Set aside.
Gently toss apple chunks and banana slices into the Ambrosia salad.
Present the Ambrosia salad, Cultured Whipped Cream, nuts-coconut mix and pomegranate seeds in separate bowls.
Allow guests to ladle Ambrosia Salad, spoon a heaping of whipped cultured cream and sprinkle their individual bowls with nuts.
* Experiment with tangerines, cara cara, blood orange and other heirloom varieties. Use only half a grapefruit per recipe. Cut into segments, or for citrus with seeds, cut segments in half to extract and discard the seed.
** Grapes with seeds have more flavor. If too tedious, use seedless variety.
† If serving the whole fruit salad recipe, double the whip Cultured Whipped Cream recipe.