It doesn't hurt that oranges are hitting their prime about now. Of course, I tend to go overboard, always buying more than I can possibly eat straight up. To handle my excess, I often make ambrosia, a lightly sweet treat I grew up with in the South. The two main ingredients are oranges and coconut, both welcome on any Chinese table. So celebrating Chinese New Year with this classic dish seemed about right, at least for this Southern girl.
Ambrosia is a simple recipe that in our house was served only for dessert. Fresh orange segments, freshly grated coconut, maybe a sprinkle of sugar — only if the oranges aren't sweet enough — and that is basically it. My grandmother topped it with a dollop of real whipped cream, but I personally never liked the whipped cream. I'd rather add a splash of orange liqueur.
When I left home, I thought my grandmother's ambrosia was as common as peanut butter and jelly. Guess not.
Most ambrosia recipes are served as a side dish, not a dessert, and in addition to oranges — often canned Mandarin oranges and sweetened dried coconut (not fresh coconut) — they include many other ingredients, such as pineapple bits, grapes, bananas, maraschino cherries, nuts, mini marshmallows and all kinds of creamy ingredients, from mayonnaise and sour cream to whipped topping and heavy cream.
These creamy sweet side dishes don't appeal to me. I prefer the clean, simple flavour of the ambrosia I grew up with. Better, and probably better for you. And that's a fine start to a fresh year.
Start to finish: 20 minutes
8 to 10 large navel oranges
2 ounces (4 tablespoons) orange liqueur
2 teaspoons superfine sugar
Pinch of salt
Flesh from 1 fresh coconut, grated
1 sprig fresh mint
Use a paring knife to cut off the tops and bottoms of each orange. One at a time, stand each orange on a cut side and slice off the peel (including the white pith) on all sides.
One at a time, hold the peeled oranges in a cupped hand over a bowl to catch the juices. Use the paring knife to cut out the orange segments from between the membranes. Add the segments to the bowl. When all of the segments have been removed from each orange, squeeze the membranes over the bowl to get as much juice as possible.
Sprinkle the oranges with the orange liqueur, sugar and salt. Toss gently. Divide between 4 serving bowls. Top with the fresh coconut, a few fresh mint leaves and whipped cream.
Nutrition information per serving: 570 calories; 400 calories from fat (70 per cent of total calories); 45 g fat (36 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 40 mg cholesterol; 39 g carbohydrate; 12 g fiber; 25 g sugar; 5 g protein; 50 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."