Growing up, whenever there was a party at our house (and there were many) from birthdays to “meetings,” to other reasons to gather and feast, huge bowls of fresh fruit, diced jelly, and evaporated milk would tailgate Jollof rice, dodo, and other savory delights. We’d enjoy the chilled, creamy fruit salad topped with globes of vanilla ice cream and slices of cream cake, a sundae of sorts. These salads, to me, have always made a strong case for canned fruits, which are readily available and often preserved at the height of their ripeness. When drained of syrup, they become delightfully bouncy, chewy, and extra eager to drink in any sauce or marinade your heart desires.
So you might imagine my delight when, years later, I was introduced to Filipino buko salad. Made by Esther, my sister’s sister-in-law, the salad looked like the one from childhood—a sweetly streaked mosaic of colorful fruits bobbing in cream—but upon first bite, the familiar gave way to the unfamiliar. Instead of the fresh orange supreme; diced pawpaw (papaya), watermelon, pineapple, and bananas I was familiar with, there were chewy, jellied cubes of nata de coco and nata de piña, sweet, sticky and crunchy kaong, and soft macapuno. And, instead of evaporated milk, Esther’s buko salad was cloaked in a sauce of tangy cream cheese and luxurious condensed milk.
If you’d like it sweeter, add some more condensed milk. More tang? Up the cream cheese. Take these proportions as a jumping-off point, then do you. Do be sure, however, to serve this cold so the fruits can firm up. —Kitchen Butterfly
- Prep time 2 hours 35 minutes
- Cook time 1 minute
- Serves 6 to 8
(28-ounce) can fruit cocktail or tropical fruit salad
(12-ounce) jar nata de coco (coconut gel)
(12-ounce) jar nata de piña (pineapple gel), kaong (palm seeds), and/or macapuno (coconut sport)
(14-ounce) can of pineapple chunks, mandarin oranges, and/or lychees
buko (frozen shredded young coconut), thawed
medium apple (any kind is fine)
full-fat cream cheese
sweetened condensed milk
Maraschino cherries, for garnish
- Combine the first 5 ingredients in a colander set into a large mixing bowl. Let drain in the fridge, covered, for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
- Discard the liquid that’s collected, and put in the drained fruit into the bowl.
- Peel and dice the apple. Add to the drained fruit.
- Place the cream cheese in a small bowl, and microwave in 10-second intervals until soft. Add the condensed milk to the cream cheese, and stir until well combined. Pour the milk-mixture over the fruit and stir to coat well. Taste and adjust with condensed milk and cream cheese for more sweetness or tanginess.
- Cover the bowl and chill for at least 2 or up to 24 hours, to allow the fruit to firm up. (The fruit salad will keep in the fridge for up to 1 week.) Stir once more before serving, and serve cold, in small bowls, each topped with a cherry.