These days, anything can be a salad. Tacos with extra lettuce? Salad. Mayonnaise and tuna? Somehow a salad. Out-of-season berries, underripe melon, and halved grapes tossed together and served at a brunch you're not even trying to be at? Yes, and we shall call it: Fruit Salad. But we can do better than that.
I'm here to tell you that fruit salad can be GREAT, and it can be cool — it's true! I'm talking about perfectly textured, acidic, lightly sweetened fruit sassed up with salty cheese, crunchy nuts, and peppery herbs. I'm talking about fruit drizzled with lime and sprinkled with chile. I'm talking about fruit dressed like a salad and treated like the sweet, special star that it is.
For a great fruit-salad experience, you only need to know one thing, and that is:
Good Fruit + Salt + Green Thing + Crunchy Thing + Cheesy Thing = Amazing Fruit Salad!
Let's break it down.
Always use good fruit. I'm not going to say that if it's not at peak season, don't use it, because we should all be allowed to live our lives. But don't expect a fruit salad made with flavorless fruit to be life-changing, you know?
You really can use nearly any fruit, but I like ones with crunchy texture (apples! pears!), good acidity (nectarines! plums!), and a mellow sweetness (persimmon! cantaloupe!). Avoid anything overly ripe (it can get mushy), anything too small to eat with a fork (blueberries, grapes) and anything that tastes like banana (bananas).
Oh, and I feel pretty passionately about slicing, never cubing or chunking the fruit. But that's deeply personal.
When I was ten, my mom had some friends over for dinner, and one of them (his name was Bob) was eating his watermelon with salt on it. I thought he was pretty gross, but then I tried it and it made the already-great watermelon even better. It changed my life. Thanks, Bob!
Just like vegetables, proteins, and nearly every single thing you'd ever cook, fruit needs a lil' bit of salt to truly sing. It brings out the flavors, kicks it into the savory realm, and keeps things properly seasoned. This is a good time to use that fancy flaky sea salt. (Hot tip: If you don't own fancy flaky sea salt, it's a truly worthy investment. I like this one by Jacobsen.)
Because we are talking about seasoning here, I'll add that if you like things spicy, you can and should season with black pepper or crushed red-chile flake.
This is kind of optional, but adding a fresh green thing here — a leafy thing like spicy arugula or watercress, or punchy tender herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, mint, and even chives or scallions — will make your fruit salad feel, well, more like a salad. It will also add flavor and texture. I like eating herbs like they are lettuce, so my fruit salads will almost always have a mix of the above.
This is probably my favorite food group. "Crunchy things" make literally whatever you are eating instantly better. Even if the fruit you're using is already crunchy, a sprinkle of toasted bread crumbs (think of them as little croutons), roasted and chopped nuts (almond, pistachio, pecan, and walnut), or even seeds (poppy, sesame, and flax are my faves) will vastly improve your fruit-salad experience.
Okay, so this is optional, but you probably, definitely want some cheesy thing at least somewhere near your fruit salad. This can be a bit of shaved Parmesan, a crumble of feta, or a little bit of thinly sliced white Cheddar. Not all fruits need this burst of creamy, fatty saltiness (extremely acidic fruits like grapefruit or naturally creamy fruits like melon don't really need it), but almost all fruits want it. And while I can't believe I'm saying this: Don't go overboard; whatever cheese you're using, use it in moderation. This is about the fruit, remember?
TO DRESS YOUR SALAD:
The best part about fruit salad is that it doesn't really need a dressing: a squeeze of lemon or lime, a drizzle of olive oil, and you're in business. If the fruit needs some help, sometimes I'll drizzle the smallest amount of honey over it, but only if it's really tart or not as sweet as it should be.
TO PLATE YOUR SALAD:
I don't know what it is, but salads just look and taste better on a plate. Even if you don't believe me, try it and I think you'll like it. Here's my formula: Scatter some sliced fruit on a plate, squeeze some lemon or lime over top, and sprinkle with salt and any other desired seasonings. In a separate small bowl, dress the greens or herbs with some lemon or lime, salt, and pepper. Scatter all this business over the fruit. Top with a crunchy thing and, if you want, a cheesy thing.
And that's it! A fruit salad that's sweet, salty, tangy, and fresh as hell. Now run and tell everyone you know fruit salads are cool again, because they are.
Here's one of my favorites to try:
Apple and Endive Salad With Parsley and Salted Almonds
My ideal salads are the ones that have tons of texture, acid, and salt. This one, in particular, hits every note: it's fresh, bitter, salty, sweet, and crunchy as hell. Yes, the bit of fish sauce is optional, but I will say that its uniquely salty, savory funkiness takes this salad from simply great to truly, impossibly delicious. Feel free to mix up the types of herbs and nuts here, depending on what you have and what you like, swapping mint for parsley or walnuts for almonds.
½ cup skin-on roasted almonds or raw walnuts or pecans, chopped (see Note)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 endives, ends trimmed, quartered lengthwise, leaves separated
1 large tart apple, such as Pink Lady, cored and thinly sliced crosswise into rounds
1 shallot, thinly sliced crosswise into rings
1 cup fresh parsley, tender stems and leaves
½ cup mint leaves
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon Asian fish sauce (optional)
Combine the almonds and olive oil in a small bowl. Season well with salt and pepper.
Toss the endive, apple, shallot, parsley, mint, lemon juice, and fish sauce (if using) in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Taste a leaf or two of endive and adjust with more lemon, salt, or pepper, if needed.
Place the apples and endive on a large serving platter or bowl and top with the salted almond mixture.
NOTE: If using raw walnuts or pecans, toast them.
TO TOAST NUTS, preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet (you could use a rimless one, but they slide off easily, so be prepared to pick up nuts off the floor for at least a few weeks). Toast, shaking the baking sheet once or twice, until the nuts are evenly and deeply toasted, anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes (closer to 8 for things like pecans and hazelnuts, closer to 12 for larger walnuts, almonds, and cashews). When you break open the nuts, they should be toasted to the core, smell like buttered toast, and be nuttier tasting than when they went in.
This recipe was reprinted from Dining In. Copyright © 2017 by Alison Roman. Photographs copyright ©2017 by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.
Alison Roman is a food writer and recipe developer and the author of the cookbook Dining In: Highly Cookable Recipes, out today.