A couple of Julys ago, I got invited to a last-minute birthday dinner. There was a homemade chocolate cake planned, but the hostess asked if I could make a second option for dessert. I texted “Of course!” before realizing I had no great ideas about what to bring…
I love to bake pies and tarts, but, having spent a dozen summers in hot New York apartments, I try to avoid turning on the oven for any reason between June and September. All I want for every meal is something fresh and cool. I wondered what I could make that would satisfy these urges, but still look and taste impressive.
Reader, I decided to make… a fruit salad!
At the grocery store, I picked out a ton of fruits all in the same vivid colorway — dark reds, purples and blues — and tossed them together in a giant white bowl. I added a generous squeeze of lemon, the smallest pinches of raw sugar and tore a few mint leaves for visual contrast.
The result has become my go-to dessert for company: the monochromatic fruit salad. It bears no resemblance to the wilted collection of honeydew pieces, lackluster grapes and tough pineapple you’d recognize from those plastic cup fruit salads in grocery store refrigerators. The matching colors and tangy-sweet-juicy tastes make it feel special and surprising. It’s also light — the perfect complement to something chocolatey on a sultry summer night.
At the party, everyone declared it delicious. “This is the most amazing fruit salad I’ve ever seen,” said my friend, Sarah, who to this day pays reverence to my “big fruit salad” (a Seinfeld reference is the truest form of flattery).
Our version of the dark fruit salad seen here includes figs, black plums, black seedless grapes, blackberries, pomegranate seeds, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, black cherries, mint, sugar and lemon juice. The light salad has gooseberries, golden raspberries, sunshine raspberries, apricots, Pink Lady apples, Rainier cherries, peaches and nectarines.
Here are a few tips for putting together this super simple, beautiful dessert:
- It works in any season. Try berries, cherries and stone fruit in the spring and summer. In the fall, consider apples, pears and grapes. Bonus points if you know how to supreme winter citruses, which you can combine with golden kiwi and star fruit.
- It’s all about presentation. Select fruits that have bold colors and hold up well when sliced and mixed. Bananas aren’t great for this dish, for example.
- Let your washed and sliced fruit dry and drain in a colander for a little while so water and juices don’t make it mushy in your serving bowl.
- Don’t overslice! Put in some whole pieces and roughly cut others. (A key detractor in many fruit salads are all the same-sized cubes.)
- Look for unexpected fruit varieties that fit your colorway, like golden raspberries or yellow cherries.
- A squeeze of lemon helps brighten the flavors and keep cut fruit looking fresh. A spoon of sprinkled sugar makes everything glisten.
- Prepare it a few hours ahead, if you like, and keep it in the fridge, covered.
- Serve on its own, garnished with mint, or pair it with chocolate cake or delicate cookies. It makes a wonderful light dish during a carb-y brunch, too.