Hot weather does a funny thing to your appetite. Or at least it does to mine. Thanks to our little heatwave here in Belgium my diet currently consists to a frighteningly large percentage of fruit. Ideally straight from the fridge so it’s nice and refreshing. And most meals that is really all I want. And even when it’s colder, certainly by the time dinner is over, as much as I like cakes, ice cream and pastries, the fruit salad option on the menu is often the one most appealing to me.
So I made a mental note to remember to maybe just bring a fruit salad to my next potluck dinner or brunch. And somehow that also made me think how easy it is to get stuck in a fruit salad rut. A pity really given how many different types of fruits are at peak ripeness right now! And once you start playing around with all the different elements, a fruit salad can be as interesting and complex in flavour as other desserts.
I wanted to share some tips for mixing things up a little bit plus a few ideas for combinations I would love to try this year in case you find yourself in a bit of a fruit salad rut and need some inspiration!
First, you can obviously play around with the combination of fruits. While I grew up with a combo of apples, oranges, bananas and pears, there is no reason not to try something new.
But you could also go for a mix of similar fruits (e.g. a bunch of different stone fruits like peaches, apricots and plums, or different varieties of pears or apples or different types of melon or all the berries).
And you could also try a mixture of textures, like crunchy watermelon with tart pomegranate seeds, plump cherries or blueberries and soft raspberries (similar to the one below).
Your fruit salad also does not need to be made from raw fruit – e.g. you could grill some pineapple wedges, stone fruits or watermelon pieces ahead of time.
If in doubt, simply stick with one or two in-season fruits, and play around with some fun pairings, e.g. mixing sweet and tart (say ripe mango with lime segments), for instance.
Here is where the fun really starts. While I won’t go as far as saying the options are endless, there are certainly many, many options for flavouring a fruit salad, the ingredients for most of which you will likely already have at home.
One of my favourite ways to flavour a fruit salad is to simply make a flavoured simple syrup. A simple syrup is a sugar syrup made from boiling equal parts by weight of sugar and water just long enough for the sugar to dissolve. Bonus point, that syrup will also take care of sweetening your fruit salad. When it comes to simple syrups, I like raiding my spice cabinet and tea drawer for ideas. For example, you could make a cinnamon or cardamom simple syrup (which would work brilliantly with apples, pears or stone fruits) or a star anise or Chinese five spice powder simple syrup (e.g. for plums or pineapple). If you have fresh lemongrass or ginger you could also use those to flavour a simple syrup. When it comes to tea, I am partial to a jasmine tea syrup like the one pictured above. An earl grey simple syrup for a fruit salad made from citrus fruit would also be lovely. Or an Osmanthus tea syrup to drizzle over peach wedges.
Saveur put together this awesome list of 19 ideas for simple syrups. I think the black pepper syrup would be brilliant with orange-fleshed melons and the fennel syrup would be ace with apples or peaches.
Also, any leftover simple syrup will give you a headstart when it comes to mixing your next cocktail (and, depending on what you used to flavour your simple syrup, you might even be able to use it to sweeten your next iced coffee).
Fruit salads are also great if you have a bottle of orange blossom water (not just with oranges but also with apples or cherries for example) or rose water (with raspberries, peaches or strawberries) lurking at the back of your pantry. Be careful though, a little will go a long way!
And don’t forget about those fresh herbs growing on your windowsill either, basil, mint, lemon verbena or coriander are all great additions to fruit salads.
Here are some ideas I would love to give a try at some point:
- Wedges of grilled pineapple with a star anise and tamarind syrup, maybe a scoop or two of coconut flavoured ice cream on the side
- Sliced mango with lime segments and a green pepper and lime syrup
- A chamomile simple syrup to serve with strawberries
- A sancho pepper syrup to pour over sliced orange, maybe scattering some cacao nibs over everything for some texture.