Oranges, pineapple, pecans, and coconut in a yogurt based creamy dressing. This Lightened Ambrosia Salad is a refreshing holiday side dish.
Ambrosia salad is one of my absolute favorite holiday dishes. It brings back fond memories of holidays at my Paw-Paw’s. Just barely able to see over the middle island, I distinctly remember this was the first holiday dish I ever got to help with.
Creamy fruit salad
Ambrosia Salad has a very vintage-y feel to me now, like the kind of dish you want to break out all that crystal from your wedding to serve it in.
Maybe it’s the maraschino cherries, who knows? My own 4 year old asked what “those red things were” and that’s reason enough for me to think we should keep some vintage recipes around during the holidays, even if we do change them up a little bit.
The delightful smell of this fruit salad is one of my favorite things about it – the sweet candied cherries, tropical fruit and the coconut.
Classic Ambrosia Salad
There are many ambrosia recipes, but the basis is that they all typically call for oranges, coconut, and heavy whipping cream. The more modern recipes often call for mini marshmallows.
The family recipe that inspired this post was a mixture of fruit tossed with a dressing consisting of heavy whipping cream and homemade mayonnaise. Very decadent and rich for a side salad.
I decided to lighten up the classic recipe by replacing the heavy dressing with a greek yogurt based dressing.
- Apple - I like to choose a nice sweet pink variety of apple such as Honeycrisp, Gala or Pink Lady.
- Green Grapes - I prefer green seedless grapes cut in half. If there are going to be young children at your holiday meal, consider cutting the grapes into smaller pieces.
- Pineapple - A can of pineapple tidbits in juice, drained.
- Mandarin Oranges
- Maraschino Cherries
- Shredded Coconut - You can use sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut.
- Greek Yogurt - Two containers of Coconut Greek Yogurt. I recommend Siggi’s Icelandic Skyr Coconut or Chobani Coconut flavored yogurt.
- Whipped Topping - Cool whip topping or prepared whipped cream.
- Pecans and coconut can be toasted before mixing in for added depth of flavor.
- Easy to omit the pecans for a tree-nut allergy.
- Vanilla greek yogurt can be substituted if the store is out of coconut.
- Be sure to thoroughly drain all the canned fruit so your salad doesn't become too soupy. I use a fine mesh colander for this.
How to make
Step 1: Combine fruit
In a large bowl combine apples, grapes, pineapple, mandarin oranges, cherries, pecans and coconut.
Step 2: Dressing
Starting with one container of greek yogurt, toss fruit mixture with yogurt until desired consistency of dressing is reached. Gently fold in cool whip or whipped cream.
Step 3: Chill
Chill the fruit salad for at least one hour before serving. Garnish with extra pecan pieces, coconut and maraschino cherries if desired.
Making the dressing
- Start by adding one container of yogurt into the fruit. The perfect ratio is probably slightly less than two full containers. Various Greek yogurts have different consistencies. Choose a thicker yogurt for best results.
- You can use either a prepared topping like Cool-Whip or mix in real heavy whipping cream. I think it is a personal preference, I like to add a little real whipped cream.
If you love Ambrosia Salad I highly encourage you to try this “lightened” holiday recipe, you won’t notice a difference, I promise!
Lightened Ambrosia Salad
- 1 medium Apple diced
- 1 cup Green Seedless Grapes halved
- 1 20 oz. can Pineapple Tidbits in juice drained
- 1 15 oz. can Mandarin Orange Segments drained
- ¼ cup Maraschino Cherries drained and quartered
- ⅓ cup Pecan pieces
- ¼ cup Shredded Coconut
- 2 5.3 oz. containers Coconut flavored Greek Yogurt
- ½ cup prepared Whipped Cream or Whipped Topping
- In large bowl combine apple through coconut. Gently toss until mixed.
- Stir in yogurt until fruit mixture is well coated. Start by adding one container at a time to fruit mixture to achieve desired consistency.
- Gently fold in whipped cream or whipped topping.
- Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
What makes this version “healthier”?
- Swapping yogurt for some of the mayonnaise and heavy cream reduces total calories and fat.
- Omitting mini-marshmallows and choosing unsweetened coconut flakes reduces added sugars.
- Choosing canned pineapple and mandarin oranges in juices rather than heavy syrup reduces added sugars and total calories.
- If you are trying to keep it lower calorie you can use light Cool Whip.
Side Dish or Dessert?
We always served Ambrosia with the main meal. It’s refreshing to take a bite of this between turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes. But this dish can hold its own on the dessert table too. Everyone always loves a good fruit salad!
More Winter Holiday Recipes
- Buttermilk Cornbread (for making Cornbread Dressing)
- Poblano Corn Casserole
- Ancho Chile Fudge Pie
- Ricotta Cheesecake Fruit Dip
Wishing y’all a happy holiday season!
Lightened Ambrosia Salad was originally published in November 2015. Updated in November 2020 with additional photos and text.