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If you grew up in the 1970s, you were lucky if you managed to avoid the scourge of ambrosia made with marshmallows, canned mandarin oranges, shredded coconut, and sometimes Cool Whip. Even my mother, who was an early proponent of seasonal and local cooking, had a weakness for it. Likewise, if you grew up eating ambrosia, you can't help but feel a fondness for its weirdness. And that’s because even in bad ambrosia is an excellent flavor combination: bright fruit and coconut.
More: Another unexpected classic? This Mandarin Orange Cake.
Ambrosia was ripe for a refresh. I started with pineapple -- bright like mandarin oranges, yet, well, not canned -- and roasted beets (do roast them, which brings out their sweetness), and mixed the two with grated ginger, raw sugar, and shredded coconut. (You can use unsweetened flaked coconut, but I prefer the sweetened, soft shredded kind for this recipe.) Usually you mix together all the ingredients at once, and then let it macerate for a few hours. In this new-fangled version, I let the fruit and coconut macerate, and finish the rest just before serving.
In place of the marshmallows, which can stay in the 70s, I made a whipped sour cream topping that gets spooned on top of the salad and sits aloft like a cloud. As you eat the gently spiced fruit salad, you mix in the cream, lightening it, softening the edges, and bringing ambrosia a whole lot closer to the 21st century.
3 cups cubed (1/2-inch) pineapple
1 cup cubed (1/2-inch) roasted beets
1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons raw sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup sour cream
Photos by James Ransom