Vegan Ambrosia Salad

My friend Karin — we've been friends since high school — makes the best Easter dinner on record. The menu has changed through the years, but it's always homemade and, because Karin's a fantastic cook, every bite is delightful. I have distinct memories of fresh rolls, roasted asparagus, rice pilaf with peas and Parmesan, and peach pie.

As you know, Easter is coming soon so I was thinking about what I would make if I was hosting the holiday meal. Embarrassingly, I came up with only one idea: ambrosia salad.

Yes, I know, this dish is usually made with fruit cocktail and marshmallows coated in sickeningly sweet whipped cream or whipped topping. Sour cream sometimes shows up in the mix too. But ambrosia salad at least has promise: it’s technically a fruit salad, so starting with that as the base, I thought it could be made better.

I admit, I still enjoy sickeningly sweet white fluffy treats when the mood strikes, but I tried to improve on the ingredients a bit and also make it dairy-free so I could feel a little better about eating a whole yummy cup of it this weekend. (Truth be told, I tested the recipe several times, so I’ve already eaten a whole lotta cups of it.) I opted for mostly fresh or unsweetened fruit and tried to reduce the sugar overall, but because my recipe uses coconut and coconut milk the saturated fat is still pretty high.

There’s one other ingredient that needs a substitution to make the salad vegan: the marshmallows, which are typically made with gelatin. There are a couple of different brands of vegan marshmallows, but my local co-op had Dandies. If you can find mini marshmallows use them to save the time and effort (and stickiness) of cutting up the larger ones.

Vegan Ambrosia Salad

Recipe by Kristine Duncan, MS, RD, CDE

1 cup red or green seedless grapes
1 cup mandarin orange segments (from 3 to 4 fresh mandarin, satsuma or clementine oranges, peeled and segmented; or one 15-oz. can of mandarin oranges, drained)
1 cup canned red tart cherries in water, drained
1¼ cups fresh pineapple, chopped (about ¼ of a pineapple)
1 cup large flake unsweetened coconut
1 cup vegan mini marshmallows, or regular-sized vegan marshmallows cut into sixths (it takes about 10 regular-sized mallows to make 1 cup once they're cut up)
13.5-fluid ounce can full fat coconut milk, refrigerated (you'll only be using the solid part that separates out when it's chilled)
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
Seeds from 1 scraped vanilla bean or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Put a medium-sized mixing bowl in the freezer to chill for 5 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine grapes, orange segments, cherries, pineapple, coconut and marshmallows. If you're cutting up the larger marshmallows, kitchen shears work great. I cut the marshmallows directly over the bowl of fruit and stir them in after each few. This helps coat the pieces in fruit juice and reduce the stick-to-each-other factor. I also washed the shears halfway through the process which made for easier and less sticky cutting.
  3. Remove chilled bowl from the freezer. Turn the can of coconut milk upside down and open from the bottom. Carefully pour off the cloudy liquid and set aside. Spoon the thick white solid stuff that's left behind into your chilled bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat for about 1 minute. Add the powdered sugar and vanilla and continue mixing for another 2 minutes until it increases in volume and looks "whipped". (Since you're starting with a fairly small volume, I had better luck using a hand mixer and a high-sided bowl than the wire whip attachment on my stand mixer.)
  4. Gently fold the whipped coconut cream into the fruit mixture. Chill for 1 hour.

Nutrition Information
Serving size: 1 cup
Serves 6

Calories: 310; Fat: 16g; Saturated fat: 14g; Carbohydrates: 40g; Sugar: 34g; Sodium: 0mg; Fiber: 3g; Protein: 2g; Cholesterol: 0mg

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Kristine Duncan, MS, RD, CDE
Kristine Duncan, MS, RD, CDE, is a dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Bellingham, Wash. Read her blog, Veg Girl RD, where she writes about diet and nutrition from a vegetarian’s point of view, and connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn.