Monday, June 22, 2015

Ivy's Chinese Fruit Salad

Looking for a way to spice up a fruit salad?

Is there anything more refreshing than a fruit salad? Probably not, especially when the fruits are in season. And summer is definitely the time to enjoy most of my favorites, whether it be in pies, cobblers, or just eaten immediately after getting home from the grocery store. Summer can also be a difficult time of year for fruit, though - my mom always complains about fruit rotting before we can eat it because of the humidity and temperature - so it's good to have a couple tricks in your back pocket to make sure you're using your fruit creatively!

I've found a couple different fun recipes that can be a good way to feature some of your favorite fruits, but this was the one that excited me the most. With a perfect combination of interesting fruits and just the right amount of extra sweetness and spice, this is a lot more exciting than your average fruit salad. The fact that it used a lot of my favorite fruits was sort of just an extra bonus.

While making this dish, I was thinking a lot about how one major change between Americans of the 1970's and Americans of today (food wise, anyway) is something a lot of people probably don't even think about on a day to day basis: most fruits are available to us year round. You can go to most major grocery stores and not only find fruit from all over the world, but fruits (and vegetables, but this is a post about fruit) that used to be regulated to one growing season. I've never gone to the store and found no strawberries, or no apples. In fact, even in my relatively small local grocery store, it's incredibly unusual to go and not find things like starfruit or mangos, something that I definitely would not have had easy access to if I was born a couple decades ago.

My mom often talks about how when she was a kid, she had to wait until fruit was in season to eat it. You never saw strawberries in December, and apples were pretty much gone by the time November was over, and you had to wait and wait and wait for your favorite fruits to come back. This could lead to fruit hoarding, or trying to eat as much of your favorite as possible before the season ended. She also talks about how the selection of fruits was a lot smaller at the store, both because some fruits like apricots were prohibitively expensive for an average solidly middle class budget or because they just weren't available for purchase even if they were in season.

It's incredible to me that within living memory food's become that much more accessible to people all over the world, any time of year, and I think it's something a lot of younger people wind up taking for granted. We're so used to having options that sometimes it's difficult to think hey, things used to be really different for our parents, probably in the same way younger people felt thinking back on their parents culinary lives before refrigeration.

Of course, fresh fruit can still be quite expensive for people on a budget, and there are pluses and minuses to this part of globalization. There's a lot of discussion about if this is good or bad for the environment, the people who eat them and the people who grow them, along with an increase in awareness and advocacy for more locally grown produce... which also has people debating whether or not it's better or worse to eat locally grown, organic crops in the long run. Some reasons for this being a mixed bag are a little more superficial, like how sometimes, you can really, really tell a fruit isn't really in season - my mom likes to complain about off season apples, insisting they don't taste as good as our local apples do in September and October, and, well. They don't. But I'd be lying if I said I don't enjoy a good New Zealand grown apple

I've been looking forward to doing this recipe since Chinese New Year this year. I happened to be watching The Cooking Channel and saw a special with Ching-He Huang planning a celebration for her family, including a Chinese fruit salad! While I wound up using a different recipe from About because I like mangos, peaches, bananas, strawberries and kiwis more than pink grapefruit (one of the primary ingredients of Ching's recipe) and most of these fruits are nice and in season at this point, Ching's sounds pretty good, too. Maybe we'll make it for Chinese New Year next year!

Like most fruit salads (all fruit salads...), you have to start with your fruit!

This recipe calls for four strawberries, two kiwis, a banana, a mango and one large peach. Or three smaller peaches, because your grocery store didn't have monster sized peaches and you weren't sure how much you'd need. The recipe suggests using a Chinese peach, but again, my grocery store didn't have that, so we're working with what we've got.

Obviously, the fruit needs to get well cleaned and broken down before you can eat it. This is another difference between the fruit we eat and the fruit Ivy would have: while people still use pesticides and other chemicals on their fruit to keep them insect and disease free, in general, farmers are a lot more conscious about dousing their product in toxic chemicals and are looking for ways to prevent ruin for their crop that aren't harmful to humans or the planet we live on. I'd like to think Julie and Ivy would be proud. You should still wash your fruit, though!

A tip for cleaning your kiwi: lay it on its side and cut off the ends, then skin and slice it into rounds. Everything else is pretty straight forward.

What really sets this apart from just being a bunch of chopped up fruit on a plate is the sugar topping you add to the layers. While this does make the dish a little less healthy, it's not so much sugar to make this a nightmare of a dish for people looking for a lighter alternative to cake or trifle for dessert, and it adds a really pleasant pop of spice and flavor the dish would be missing without it.

All you need is two tablespoons of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of almond extract and a quarter teaspoon of Chinese five-spice powder. Five-spice powder usually has ground cloves, star anise, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and fennel seeds, but it can have ginger, nutmeg and other spices in it as well. It's a spice that can work well in both sweet and savory dishes, and really enhances and elevates the flavor of the fruit in this dish.

To construct your salad, you start with a base of your sliced kiwi ringed with sliced bananas... which I promptly forgot to snap a picture of before adding the next layer of fruit. Oops! Just visualize what that must have looked like as we move on.

Next, your chopped mango goes on top of your kiwis and the dish is ringed with peaches. Your sliced strawberries go on top, hopefully arranged in an eye catching manner.

Between each layer, sprinkle a little of the sugar and spice mix over the top so each piece of fruit gets a little bit of it on. You can afford to be relatively generous with this - two tablespoons goes a long way!

Chill it in the fridge before serving, and you're ready to go! Letting it chill allowed the sugar and spice to kind of melt and fuse better to the fruit, making them look especially shiny when I pulled the plate back out.

This was a super simple recipe that looks really pretty on a plate and is a lot more exciting than just chopping up some melon and grapes and throwing them in a bowl. Not that there's anything wrong with that! But you have to admit, the same old, same old gets a little boring sometimes, and this definitely isn't boring.

The fruit has a variety of textures that make this a lot of fun to eat, especially if your peaches are a little crunchy. You've got the crunch of the peach, the sliminess of the kiwi and mango and the softness of the banana and strawberries, all with the slight heat from the sugar and spice topping. The kiwis add a nice layer of acid to contrast the sweetness of the other fruits, and each bite is a little different. I would absolutely make this again and enjoyed snacking on the leftovers. I think five-spice powder might need to be sprinkled on fruit more often!

I was also delighted that most of my crew was willing to at least try this, although I know if my dad had been home, he would have protested the strawberries and bananas. Sometimes, they can be stinkers about trying something a little different, but this went over pretty well with them. My mom probably would have preferred it with less sugar, which - again - is making me think about just making mango skewers dusted with five-spice powder in the future. They serve something similar in Disneyland but with cayenne powder, and my mom always has it at least once while we're there.

Do you have a favorite fruit salad?

While you consider your answers, Ivy and I have an appointment with this plate of food...


  1. *From Julie's doll mom:*

    Although different fruits may be available out of season, they A) don't taste that great and B) are usually more expensive. So I like to buy some fruits in season like strawberries, cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums and pears. Apples, bananas and grapes I pretty much buy all year long. In the 80s, I worked in a pre-school w/ a woman who never made fruit salad w/o adding yogurt to it. That's what she would make the kids for afternoon snack, and they loved it. I just got used to eating it that way, and now whenever I make fruit salad I think of of my first teaching job.

    1. That's so interesting, I'd never heard of yogurt in fruit salad before!

  2. I'm a bit surprised at the idea of apples being a seasonal thing. The farmers' markets in my area have them year round. Perhaps storage has improved since the 1970s?

    On another note, have you considered doing a Kaya blog post involving frybread or Indian tacos? They're popular powwow foods, though I don't know how often people make them at home.

    1. Well, our growing season isn't super long what with our long winters, haha.

      And I have actually considered doing that before, but my mom has put a kiabosh on fried food after my latkes at Hanukkah two years ago. Too much oil everywhere! Maybe when I get my own place we'll give it a shot. :)