Reprinted with permission from Basic to Brilliant, Y'all: 150 Refined Southern Recipes and Ways to Dress Them Up for Company by Virginia Willis, copyright 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. For more about Virginia, please visit www.virginiawillis.com. (Helene Dujardin 2011) (iStock)
“My grandfather did most of the work,” she says describing how he peeled and sliced navel oranges leaving no pith, seeds or membrane. Holding a coconut in one hand and a hammer in the other, he cracked it, drained it, peels it, and wiped each piece creating a pile of pristine white shards. Then he’d shred the coconut on the small side of the grater.
No holiday in our family would be complete without this refreshing fruit salad. My grand-father Dede would patiently grate the fresh coconut on a box grater, also put to use for the obligatory coconut cake. My sister, Jona, would sit, fidgeting, on the stool in the kitchen waiting for a sip of the coconut juice. Once the coconut was grated, Dede would peel and segment enough oranges to make gallons of this exquisite concoction. Although Dede did all the work (with a little help from Jona), I’ve named this dish for Meme, because she loved it and he made it for her. Use this simple recipe as the starting point for creating your own version. Always use fresh coconut, not flaked, canned, bagged, or frozen.
- 6 navel oranges
- 1 Cup shredded fresh coconut (see below)
- 1/4 Cup sugar (optional)
To section the oranges, using a sharp knife and a cutting board, slice off the tops and bottoms so the oranges will stand upright. For each orange, set the fruit upright on the board. Working from top to bottom, slice off the peel, pith, and outer membranes from the orange to expose the segments. Carefully cut each segment away from its membranes and put in a bowl along with any juice. Squeeze any remaining juice from the membranes, then discard them.
To assemble, add the coconut to the orange segments and gently toss to combine. Add sugar to taste, depending on the sweetness of the oranges. The ambrosia can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, covered.
Preparing Fresh Coconut
To crack the coconut, pierce three holes on the coconut shellwith an ice pick or a clean screwdriver and drain out the juice. Place the pierced, drained coconut directly on the rack in a pre-heated 350°F oven for about 10 minutes to crack the shell. Remove it from the oven and wrap it in a kitchen towel; place it either on the floor or on a sturdy work surface that can tolerate hammering. Give the shell a couple of whacks with a hammer to break it completely open. Remove the pieces of broken coconut from the towel. The coconut meat, covered with brown skin, will pull away easily from the cracked shell. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the brown skin from the meat. Grate the skinless meat in a food processor or with a box grater.