Nix the bananas and thank me later
Fruits salads too often have the unfortunate—and often deserved—reputation of being soggy, flavorless and a little slimy, thanks to the inclusion of bananas, which sink to the bottom as the eater chases riper, less slimy-seeming things around the bowl with the serving spoon. Which leads to my first tip for making a fruit salad you’ll actually want to eat: Leave out the bananas. They turn everything in the bowl slimy. It’s true. I am sorry to break it to you like this. Here are a few more tips for making a really delicious fruit salad—at any time of year, even in the coldest months of the year.
What’s in season?
If fruit salad just isn’t fruit salad without peaches, make the peachiest fruit salads you can July through September and sign up to bring something else to brunch the rest of the year. The bottom line—the whole point of fruit salad—is to highlight the fruit, to eat beautiful and delicious fruit with other beautiful and delicious fruits. Thinking about what’s in season where you are right now isn’t just the easiest way to make sure you’re getting really wonderful fruit that tastes like itself; it also gives you helpful guidelines for deciding what to put in the salad at all.
If you live in a place like New York (that is, a place with only one real growing season), the prospect of a holiday fruit salad might seem a little grim. But citrus fruits make a really stunning salad of their own: Peel and slice lots of different kinds of fruit—grapefruits! tangerines! blood oranges! pomelos!—into “supremes” (i.e. carefully cut all the peel and pith off, then use a paring knife to slice out the delicate wedges of the fruit, leaving the membrane behind) or thick rounds, and then arrange on a big platter.
Are you eating right away or schlepping it to brunch?
Some fruits actually benefit from a little rest—like berries tossed with sugar and citrus zest. Others, like apples, turn brown if they’re sitting out, so cut them right before you serve if possible, and if not, give them a good spritz with lemon juice to keep them looking fresh.
Pick one color and stick to it.
Say you live in California and all the fruit is ripe and perfect. (You lucky dog, you.) Where to begin? You can either go full-on confetti and toss in a little of everything and every color, or you can simplify things: Use one color—red, orange, pink, gold—as inspiration, making salads of raspberries and redcurrants and cherries and watermelon or pineapple and mango and white grapefruit. And don’t be afraid to pick just two or three fruits.
Think big and small, and don’t stop at fruit.
Meaty slices of grapefruit, paper-thin slices of kumquat. Long, thin slivers of pear with chubby pomegranate seeds. The more varied in size and texture the salad is, the more interesting it is to both look at and eat.
Once you have your fruits settled, branch out. Incorporate green things, which make the fruit taste and look brighter. Mint and basil leaves (leave them whole) are wonderful with nearly anything—berries and cherries, pears and apples, tropical fruits and citrus, melons of all types. A little bit of cilantro is fun with pineapple and mango. And, while not leafy, avocado is dreamy with citrus of all kinds. (If you think the crowd you’re sharing this with would be game, serve it all on a pile of peppery arugula.)
Then add texture: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, chopped toasted nuts, big flakes of coconut (toasted or otherwise), sliced candied ginger, and more.
Dress it up.
This is a salad, after all. Fruit salads tend to make their own dressings, but if you want to add another layer, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of turbinado sugar are good on anything, and bring out the fruits’ best. Any combination of citrus and sweet works—honey and lime is another particularly good pair, especially on mango, with the tiniest pinch of cayenne pepper sprinkled over. Speaking of which, sprinkle caraway seeds over cantaloupe, pair vanilla with plums, and crack pink peppercorns over that red fruit salad discussed above.
Splash the salad with a little red or white wine—or the barest bit of orange blossom water or rosewater—and let it chill like that in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. I highly recommend doing this with peaches, plums, and berries.
Or go creamy and serve the salad with a dollop of tahini-swirled yogurt alongside, or in a shallow pool of coconut milk, the full-fat stuff from the can, shaken well.
Buy your fruit before you need it.
This will ensure that everything—especially things like stone fruits, melons, and pineapples, which often need a little extra time on the counter before you eat them—is as ripe as possible.