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Fruit salad was once the most maligned dish on the brunch or potluck table—with this easy recipe, that's all changed.
I have never seen my mother more disappointed than last summer, when she was asked to bring a fruit salad to a barbecue.
“Fruit salad,” she sighed, dejected. “What’s the point?”
I think she’s not alone in her sentiment. Fruit on its own? A fresh and flavourful treat. A platter of watermelon, for instance, or a bowl of bright and juicy blueberries? Delectable. Somehow, though, when fruit is jumbled together in a bowl, we find ourselves with the culinary equivalent of a wah-wah trumpet sound: a dang bummer.
Who has ever pumped their fist in the air with joy at discovering a bowl of fruit salad? In a worst-case scenario, the salad goes melon-heavy, and slimes up all the other fruit in the mix. (I can’t even bring myself to comment on what happens when someone includes banana.) But even when it’s a more civilized textural mix, fruit salad often bears the burden of being the ‘healthy’ thing at the potluck or brunch table: something to assuage the guilt of two helpings of mac ‘n’ cheese, or as a nutritional palette cleanser between eggs Benedicts.
But my mom’s disappointment inspired me to take action. What if, I wondered, wild-eyed, the fruit salad was the best part of the buffet? Was there a way to turn things around; to correct all of fruit salad’s issues and create a dish that may well be the star of the barbecue?
I set to work, a little culinary engineer, trying to help her mom but also… all of mankind?
First: to analyze the major issues with the Common Fruit Salad.
Perhaps there are honeydew freaks out there, but in my experience, most of us see melon as salad filler. In my brave new fruit salad world, cantelope would be forbidden. Only delicious fruit allowed—delicious fruit that could withstand the pressure of sitting out for several hours, or languishing in the fridge. That meant no browning bananas and no quick-to-yellow apples. Instead, I turned to stone fruit: plums, cherries and peaches would be the all-stars of my dream team. Berries were welcomel, and I threw in some watermelon as well, which is the only melon allowed, because I said so.
We dress every other type of salad. Some would argue that dressing is what makes a salad. And yet, with fruit salad, most of us just toss some berries into a bowl and call it a day. Any home chef knows that seasoning and sauce is what makes a dish sing. I did some searching around for “fruit salad dressing” and took inspiration from other brave culinary souls out there who were also seeking a richer flavour experience. I mixed a quarter cup of honey with 1½ tbsp. of lime juice, and tossed the fruit with that. Still, it was missing something.
What balances sweetness? Salt and heat. I seasoned to taste with salt and chilli flakes. Then, in a fit of fructose-induced genius, I tossed in a handful of fresh mint leaves, too.
I was going to say I don’t want to toot my own horn but… I do. I’m tooting. This fruit salad straight-up rules, and we did, in fact, win the barbecue: everyone went back for seconds, and the leftovers became even more delicious as the juices of the fruit mixed with the dressing overnight. It became my go-to last summer and I’m stoked to replicate its smash success this year.
The beauty of this recipe is that it barely is a recipe, and can be tweaked to include all your fave fruits.
Just remember the New Rules of Fruit Salad:
1. Delicious fruit only.
2. Add a sweet-and-citrusy dressing.
3. Season with salt and spice.
Take my teachings out into the world. May we never dread a potluck fruit salad assignment ever again.
Chop up all the fruit into fruit salad-y sized chunks. Whisk together the honey, lime juice, salt, chili flakes in a large bowl. Add the fruit and mint leaves to the bowl with the dressing and toss to coat. Cover and chill if you’ve got time but it’s tasty at room temperature, too.
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