During Chinese New Year, which this year falls on Jan. 31, displaying and eating tangerines and oranges are said to bring wealth and luck. Sounds like a fine start to the new year.
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 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 flavor of the ambrosia I grew up with. Better, and probably better for you. And that’s a fine start to a fresh year.