Food & Dining

Start the Chinese new year with a twist on ambrosia

This is the finished product, the coconut orange ambrosia.
This is the finished product, the coconut orange ambrosia. Associated Press

During the Chinese New Year -- it's on Jan. 31 and brings the year of the wooden horse, replacing the year of the water snake -- displaying and eating tangerines and oranges is said to bring wealth and luck. Sounds like a fine start to the new year.

Of course, I tend to go overboard, always buying more oranges 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 the Chinese New Year with this classic dish seemed about right.

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.

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 flavor of the ambrosia I grew up with. Better, and probably better for you. And that's a fine start to a fresh year.

What you'll needed:

  • Eight to 10 large navel oranges.

  • Two ounces (four tablespoons) orange liqueur.

  • Two teaspoons superfine sugar.

  • Pinch of salt.

  • Flesh from one fresh coconut, grated.

  • One sprig fresh mint.

  • Whipped cream.

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 four serving bowls. Top with the fresh coconut, a few fresh mint leaves and whipped cream.

Start to finish: 20 minutes.

Servings: Four.

Nutrition information per serving: 570 calories; 400 calories from fat (70 percent 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.