Chef Shelley's Ambrosia Salad
A New Twist on an Old Favorite
Chef Shelley Cooper of Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in Townsend, Tennessee has reimagined the classic dish, adding in her own style to make a tried and true dish even more special.
“Every family has its own way of doing ambrosia,” says Shelley Cooper, chef at Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro in rural Townsend, Tennessee. The traditional dish is a throwback to a time when tropical ingredients were exotic luxuries.
“I can remember my maternal grandmother in the Mississippi Delta, she would do ambrosia with fresh fruit and whipped cream for special occasions,” Cooper says. “My North Carolina mountain family would go to church on Sunday, then have ambrosia with potluck lunch. It was the fruit cocktail and marshmallow stuff.”
Cooper, who grew up in Memphis, spent her formative career years cooking Southern food at restaurants in places from Alaska to New Zealand, until coming home to Tennessee in 2013. As she built the Appalachian Bistro at Dancing Bear’s menu, she wanted to revisit that family favorite in a fresh way. The greens, goat cheese, and brown butter dressing always stay the same, but the fruit changes with the season.
In early summer, Cooper uses berries she gathers on the property—unless one of the lodge’s namesakes is already foraging for them. “You do have to be careful,” she says. “But if the bears are out, there’s always somebody showing up in a pickup who wants to sell me something.”
FOR THE DRESSING (YIELD: ABOUT 3 CUPS)
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup pecan halves
- 1 tbsp. sugar
- 2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter
- ½ cup rice wine vinegar
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- ¼ cup dried cherries
- 1 tbsp. white pepper
FOR THE SALAD (YIELD: 6 SERVINGS)
- 1 cup goat cheese, crumbled
- 10 blueberries
- 10 blackberries, halved
- 6 cups fresh mixed greens
- 10 strawberries, quartered
- 10 raspberries
- 10 bite-size pieces fresh pineapple
- 1 cup shaved unsweetened coconut, toasted
Place the butter in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat and cook until light chocolate brown, stirring occasionally. Cool for 30 minutes. Slowly whisk in each remaining dressing ingredient.
(If the dressing gets too cool, it will solidify. Gently reheat in a saucepan over low heat or microwave and whisk to reblend.)
To serve, plate greens, top with fruit, cheese, and coconut, and spoon desired amount of warm dressing over the salad.
Recipe from Shelley Cooper of Dancing Bear Appalachian Bistro, Townsend, Tennessee
Photo: Johnny Autry|Food Styling By Charlotte Autry