I can hardly remember a family gathering – a birthday, holiday or just a catch up – that didn’t end with, among other desserts, a bowl of my mom’s fruit salad. Crisp fruit laced with orange blossom water and accented with the gentle crunch of pine nuts and pistachios.
The combination of fresh fruit and floral dressing is a beautiful one, so feel free to experiment with other fruit you love. The nuts are soaked overnight to soften, which creates a unique spin on how we usually eat them with savory dishes: toasted or fried until golden brown. If left overnight, the orange blossom water and natural fruit juices melt together to make the lightest, yet most luxurious sauce.
Most importantly, this fruit salad evokes an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. You see, we Arabs love our desserts. I can remember many a time where I shared a gooey kunafa at my grandfather’s, or introduced friends to proper baklawa or maamoul at a local Middle Eastern bakery. But, looking back, the only time I can remember having this sweet, simple fruit salad was at home. I’ve asked around, and though several friends had their own renditions of fruit salad, as many of us do, none closely resembled my mom’s.
In that moment I realized that I’d never asked her if she, in fact, created this recipe or if she learned it from Teta (my grandmother, her mother-in-law), who shared many recipes with her over the years. Mom and dad are busy gallivanting around Europe and the Middle East at the moment, and can’t be reached for comment this afternoon. Maybe I’ll let it remain a mystery…
As we lead into November, and my favourite holiday – you guessed it, Thanksgiving – draws nearer, I feel particularly drawn to recipes that remind me of home, of family, and of being together. So, starting with my next post, I’m excited to bring you a three week feature of my favorite Thanksgiving family recipes. I’ll also share my tips for simplifying your cooking schedule, and a few ideas for fellow Thanksgiving-loving expats like me who can’t always find seasonal American ingredients abroad.
Until then, what recipes remind you of home?
MOM’S ARABIC FRUIT SALAD
Measurements are approximate – let your intuition guide you; Makes 4 small dessert servings
1 large red apple
1 large ripe pear
11/4 cup red grapes
1 1/4 cup sliced cantaloupe
Juice of ½ lemon
Juice of 1 orange
1 capful (about ½ tsp) Orange Blossom Water (mazaher)
1 small palmful pine nuts, soaked overnight or blanched in hot water
1 small palmful pistachios, soaked overnight or blanched in hot water
Combine the pine nuts and pistachios in a small bowl, cover with water, and let stand overnight to soften. Alternatively, pour boiling water over the nuts and let stand 15 minutes.
Core and slice the apple and pear into bite-size pieces (skin-on) and place in a large bowl. Toss with enough lemon juice to coat and keep from turning brown. Peel and slice the cantaloupe into bite-size pieces, then add the grapes, juice of 1 orange, and orange blossom water. Fold together with the pine nuts and pistachios. Serve immediately, or let sit 20-30 minutes until flavors combine, toss and serve.
Audio pairing: Andres Segovia, “Asturias”
Because mom + dad are in Spain today, and they used to play this Segovia CD all the time while cooking.