(Healthier) Ambrosia Salad

Healthy Ambrosia Salad (with homemade marshmallows!).  This classic salad can be made using fresh ingredients,  minimally sweetened, and probiotic-rich!

Juicy fruit, flavorful coconut, creamy yogurt, and sweet (homemade) marshmallows come together in this simple, but delicious fruit salad. When you upgrade all of the ingredients to use nourishing ones, this probiotic-rich salad is a healthy treat!

When my birthday rolled around in my childhood, my dinner requests were pretty simple. Mac and cheese was always a request, and so was “Five Cup Fruit Salad,” otherwise known as Ambrosia Salad. I loved it so much I felt I could eat it solely for days and be happy (though my mom never let me). These meal requests always made my mom happy because they were so easy and simple to fulfill. This fruit salad takes only about five minutes to throw together, which also makes it even more convenient while camping.

Did I mention the camping part? KOA (Kampgrounds of America)  invited me to be part of their marshmallow month, and to stay at one of their campgrounds. We loved cooking in one of their beautiful cabins (more on their cabin and campgrounds in a second). I not only said yes, but started dreaming of all sorts of gourmet marshmallow recipes. Oh, I had some crazy ideas!

But in the end, my childhood ideals won out, and we were glad it did.

Ingredients for My Ambrosia Salad

Perhaps I should say an improved childhood favorite won out.

I’ve made this salad with all fresh fruit, and it was very delicious. But let’s be honest…if there was a time for using canned food, it would be when camping. So I compromised this time with fruit canned in fruit juice (no corn syrup, no sugar). Instead of using highly sweetened coconut flakes, I used unsweetened for a more coconutty and less sugary option.

Our family recipe from my childhood used sour cream. We can only tolerate goat milk products, so I used goat yogurt, and it was AMAZING! It had that tangy taste like sour cream and was so creamy too. Coconut yogurt, or even some thick coconut cream would also work for a dairy-free option. Maybe add some lime juice for a little bit of bright flavor.

I also decided to make my own homemade marshmallows. As many of you know, I am a real fan of homemade marshmallows sweetened entirely with honey or maple syrup (you can get my marshmallow recipe here and here). This time, on a whim, I made up marshmallows sweetened entirely with stevia. They worked really well in this salad (but I don’t think they would toast up for ‘smores!). I want to experiment with them a little more before sharing the recipe, but hopefully I will perfect them soon.

As a backup, I also brought these (affiliate link) vegan marshmallows which are surprisingly quite decent. They are GMO-free, and don’t use corn-syrup, coloring, and some of the nasty non-food ingredients that many marshmallows contain.

Bring all of those foods together, and you have ambrosia – “the food of the gods”.

Koa Kampgrounds

We hadn’t stayed at a Koa campground before, but plenty of my fellow food bloggers who camp a lot more than we do tell me that they love Koa campgrounds. It was not hard to see why. The specific location we went to in Oregon was by far the best maintained, friendliest campground we’ve been too. Our location also had all types of camping options, from tent sites to RV spots, to rustic cabins, to the deluxe cabins. Our deluxe cabin was so beautiful I took pictures of it as soon as we arrived. People, it even had wine glasses and air conditioning. I think you call this “glamping” and I decided I was a real fan. Notice in the top picture the big grill, patio table set, and you can also see just the top of the fire pit.

KOA deluxe cabin

Let’s just say we were pretty happy here. Isn’t it beautiful!

When we were browsing the locations near us (there were plenty in Oregon and Washington to choose from), it is clear that their campgrounds have a wide appeal. Some locations were clearly for the explorer, located near the foot of serious hiking with more simple accommodations. Others, like the location in Astoria we were at, are more of a family-friendly fun camp. With so many fun things for the kids to do (swimming in their indoor pool, playing miniature golf, crafts, etc), we had to drag the kids away from the actual campground to go to the beach! All to say, our stay was a success.

I also loved learning that Koa has community outreach camping, including care kamps for children with cancer and their siblings, where children can experience camping while still receiving medical care. That was heart warming to hear about.

Special thanks to KOA for sending us to camp and inviting us to be part of #marshmallowmonth! And hat-tip to Frugal Granola for reminding me of this delicious salad. Thanks, friend!

(Healthier) Ambrosia Salad
  • 1 cup of fresh mandarin orange segments or 12 ounce can of mandarin oranges in fruit juice
  • 1 cup of fresh bite-sized pineapple or 1 cup of canned in fruit juice pineapple bits
  • ¾ cup unsweetened coconut flakes (not defatted)
  • 1 cup of miniature marshmallows of choice (if using homemade, cut into small pieces)
  • 1 cup of unsweetened yogurt of choice
  1. Drain all canned fruit, if using (save juice for making fruit juice gelatin or drink it!). Mix all of the ingredients together, and refrigerate for about 2 hours before serving.
  2. Enjoy!


Frugal Sardine Salad with Artichoke Hearts and a Creamy Lemon Shallot Dressing (Gluten and Dairy-Free)

frugal sardine salad with artichoke hearts and a creamy lemon shallot dressing

By April Swiger, Contributing Writer

Fresh greens, savory sardines, and artichoke hearts are dressed with a vibrant homemade dressing for a nutritious and delicious meal.

Simple meals packed full of nourishment is the foundation I build my weekly menu on. This includes regularly eating seafood (specifically fish that is high in nutrients, sustainable, and low in toxins), but can be tough to do on a tight budget. It wasn’t until recently (with much fear and trepidation) that I cracked open my very first can of sardines. I was pleasantly surprised at the milder-than-expected scent, and buttery, flaky texture. I knew this frugal fish, packed full of necessary omega 3’s, would begin to make a regular appearance in my kitchen.

Disclaimer: Some outgoing links may be affiliate links. Thanks for supporting this blog! 

Kimi recently wrote about finding seafood untouched by radiation from Fukushima, and the information she shared about sardines had me sold. It has always been a struggle for me to figure out how to afford quality seafood. Imagine my excitement when I learned that Costco sells a pack of five BPA-free cans of wild-caught sustainably harvested sardines for less than $9! The brand I bought is boneless, skinless, soaked in olive oil, and mild to the taste. Kimi has also outlined a number of additional brands and types of sardines that she enjoys. I’m eager to try the smoked one. sometime soon!

Sardine salad with artichoke hearts and a creamy lemon shallot dressing 2

As I began brainstorming how to incorporate sardines into our meals, I considered the beautiful weather we have been experiencing lately. Spring is in full swing here in Connecticut, and hearty soups and stews have finally given way to a variety of seasonal salads. When the days get longer, and we’re busy enjoying the outdoors, a nourishing salad with little to no preparation becomes a staple for us. This frugal sardine salad has only a few ingredients and can be easily adapted with other vegetables you have on hand. I love the addition of artichoke hearts and a handful of local radishes to add crunch and beautiful color.

One of the most frugal (and healthy) practices I’ve adapted over the last few years is making my own salad dressing. It’s so easy to do! With a base of extra virgin olive oil, and some vinegar or lemon juice, you can make a unique dressing to suit any dish. For me, I love sardines mixed with citrus. Whether it’s on pasta, or a bed of greens, lemon juice pairs well with this little fish. The addition of a spicy brown or dijon mustard, and raw honey, allows this dressing to thicken up nicely.

If you’re like me and desire to add more fish into your diet, consider trying sardines. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy them! Kimi has graciously written about eating seafood on a budget and offers six tips for doing so.

Here are some other recipes you may enjoy:

Frugal Sardine Salad with Artichoke Hearts and a Creamy Lemon Shallot Dressing (Gluten and Dairy-Free)
Recipe type: Salad
This salad is a quick to prepare and full of nutrients! It can be easily adapted for any vegetables you have on hand. Pair it with a piece of crusty sourdough bread and butter if you desire. This recipe makes two large salads with dressing to spare.
  • FOR THE DRESSING (makes 1 cup):
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp - 1 Tbls raw honey
  • 1 large shallot, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbls spicy brown, or dijon, mustard
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • 1 can of sardines (I used boneless, skinless in olive oil but I imagine that sardines in water or even smoked would be delicious as well!)
  • 3 radishes, chopped
  • 3-4 whole cooked artichoke hearts, cut into quarters (fresh, frozen or marinated in a jar is ok)
  • About 4-6 cups of chopped romaine lettuce
  1. Put all the salad dressing ingredients into a glass measuring cup or a large mason jar. If you have a hand blender, gently pulse the mixture together until it is a creamy consistency. If you don't have a hand blender, you can use a stand blender just as easily.
  2. Assemble your salad. On a bed of chopped romaine lettuce sprinkle your radish pieces and artichoke hearts.
  3. Open your tin of sardines, and use a fork to break apart the fish onto your salad.
  4. Top with the lemon shallot dressing.


Vietnamese Bun: Refreshing Noodle Salad with Vegetables, Chicken & Herbs (GF & DF)


Vietnamese Bun: Refreshing Noodle Salad with Vegetables, Chicken & Herbs (GF & DF)

By Alison Diven, Contributing Author

Have you heard it yet, the siren call of spring? Here in northwest New Mexico, the birds are dancing in the junipers, new-green shoots surprise me daily along our pathways, and the very light and air seem re-born. My palate has changed too: I’m ready for all things light, crisp, fresh. Vietnamese bun, a cold noodle dish, showcases the best of spring—tender lettuces, crisp sprouts, sweet carrots, and fresh herbs nestled into silky rice vermicelli and highlighted with a tangy-salty-sweet sauce. Broiled or grilled chicken makes it a complete meal.

This dish is a great incentive to explore farmers’ markets and home gardening. Endless variations can be dictated by what’s available. Fresh-picked sugar snap peas, perhaps? Daikon or little red radishes? It’s all fair game! Not traditional, no, but I’m not judging.

My version of bun isn’t the most traditional anyway. Since I’m seeking great nutrition, I’m happy to swap out some of the usual pile of noodles for nutrient-dense lettuce and extra vegetables. Coconut sugar in the dipping sauce turns it a surprising deep brown, but it tastes just as good as the white sugar-laced kind. I also was unable to find lemongrass locally, so I improvised with lemon peel in the marinade. It added just the hint of lemon flavor I craved.

Because our climate puts us still weeks away still from the first harvest, I used all grocery store produce to get my fresh fix a bit early, but come May, you better believe I’m going to hit the local growers’ markets! I’m hooked for life. Some especially busy or ill seasons have kept me from the farmer stands, but I always return sooner or later. I just can’t stay way. There’s no comparing the taste and nutrition of fresh, local produce, not to mention the joy of partnering directly with those who lovingly work the land.

If you have yet to experience the difference buying local can make, I encourage you to take a step toward finding a farmers’ market today. You may be just in time for the first fruits of the growing season. Visit LocalHarvest.org and search for your location. You can also ask around at health food stores, natural food co-ops, yoga studios, and anywhere else health- or eco-conscious people gather.

Other  noodle dishes you might enjoy: 

A few recipe notes:

(Amazon affiliate links)

  • While the ingredient “fish sauce” may sound scary and even smell a little off-putting, it tastes wonderful and absolutely non-fishy in the final dish. It simply adds wonderful umami and depth to food. I splash in a little to any kind of soup when I need a flavor boost. Check ingredients for a sauce made only of fish, salt, and perhaps, sugar. Red Boat is the purest option I know, and is often available in health food stores, but we also buy and enjoy Tiparos, which can be cheaper and easier to find. Asian markets will have the best prices.
  • Did you know you can grow your own bean sprouts in 4 days without fancy equipment? This tutorial has a special trick for making them grow thick and strong like the ones from the grocery store.
  • For a vegetarian version, top with boiled eggs instead of chicken.

Vietnamese Bun: Refreshing Noodle Salad with Vegetables, Chicken & Herbs
Recipe type: Gluten Free, Dairy Free
Cuisine: Asian
Serves: 4
A light, refreshing salad perfect for spring and summer produce. Can be made entirely ahead for a stress-free dinner. Feel free to use whatever vegetables are fresh from the garden or farmers' market. The marinade as written produces an intensely meaty, savory flavor that works well when contrasted with the rest of the dish. If you or your children prefer a mild, sweeter taste, replace 1 Tbsp of fish sauce with coconut sugar. Finally, for the Dipping Sauce, use the larger amounts in parenthesis if you already know you like lots of sauce.
  • ~1 lb organic or pastured chicken thighs
  • 2 Tbsp fish sauce (check label for gluten; I prefer Red Boat)
  • 2 Tbsp coconut sugar or Rapadura or Sucanat (I like Nutiva coconut sugar)
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • zest of 1 small lemon
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 8 ounces rice vermicelli
  • 1 small head nutritious lettuce like butterhead or romaine, thinly sliced
  • 2 handfuls bean sprouts (see tutorial here for making your own), washed
  • 3 small carrots, julienned (I like this julienne peeler)
  • 1 seedless cucumber, julienned
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro
  • 1 bunch fresh mint
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, especially Thai basil, optional
  • ¼ cup crushed roasted peanuts, optional
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
Dipping Sauce:
  • 4 Tbsp (or 6 Tbsp) lime juice
  • ½ cup (or ¾ cup) water
  • 2 Tbsp (or 3 Tbsp) fish sauce (Red Boat is my favorite)
  • 2 cloves (or 3 cloves) garlic
  • 4 Tbsp (or 6 Tbsp) coconut sugar (Nutiva brand is excellent)
  1. Combine chicken thighs and all marinade ingredients in a dish and leave in refrigerator for at least several hours, and preferably overnight.
  2. Prepare vermicelli according to package instructions. (Can be done ahead, refreshing noodles in warm water before serving.)
  3. Prepare dipping sauce by mixing the lime juice, water, fish sauce, garlic, and coconut sugar together until well combined. (Can be made ahead; chill until serving time.)
  4. Heat broiler on high. Shake marinade off chicken, place on broiler-safe pan, and broil for 3-4 minutes per side, watching closely to avoid burning. Allow to cool slightly and cut into slices.
  5. Assemble the salads by dividing noodles, lettuce, carrots, cucumber, green onions, herbs, and chicken among 4 large bowls. Top with crushed peanuts and lime wedges if desired.
  6. Sauce can be served in 4 small bowls for dipping, or poured over the top of each salad.
  7. Enjoy!

Looking for more springtime inspiration? The Nourishing Gourmet has got you covered!

Spring Is Here Asparagus Egg Drop Soup
Tangy Lemon Curd (Honey Sweetened and Dairy Free)
Spring Green Frittata
Healthy Strawberry Lemonade (Stevia-Sweetened)
Nourishing Nettle Soup

Quinoa Salad with Cucumbers, Chickpeas, and a Yogurt Dill Dressing

Quinoa salad yogurt dill dressing

By April Swiger, Contributing Writer

This quinoa salad has the unmistakable taste of fresh dill, tangy yogurt, and refreshing lemon and cucumber. Quinoa is gluten-free, packed with nutrients, and fills you up without ill effects when prepared properly. When soaked with a little raw apple cider vinegar, it’s easy to digest, and can be used in countless recipes ranging from breakfast porridges to summer salads.

Cucumbers have been on sale at my little local market the past two weeks and I’ve been itching to add them to a creamy yogurt based salad. As spring has finally sprung, I’m eager to begin making hearty and nourishing salads again for the warmer months. I love the idea of a filling side dish that can easily transfer over to a simple main dish. With the addition of chickpeas to this salad, it can be both!

Quinoa is a grain-like seed (from the same family as beets and spinach) and benefits from a long soak like other grains and legumes to reduce anti nutrients. There is a distinct bitter taste to quinoa which can be reduced significantly through soaking, and a thorough rinse before cooking. I have found that as I plan my meals for the week, adding an alert to my phone to “soak quinoa” the day before I need it has proved to be an easy way to incorporate this traditional practice into my routine.

quinoa salad yogurt dill dressing2

I love the addition of a creamy and tangy dressing to this salad! It’s reminiscent of a Greek tzatziki sauce but with the delicious taste of fresh dill. I used a Russian kefir yogurt for this recipe, but any plain, full-fat yogurt will work just fine. A whisk works great to blend all the ingredients together.

If you enjoy experimenting in the kitchen, you can easily adapt this recipe with different dressings and vegetables that are available to you. Kimi has shared a fantastic list of nourishing salad dressings that are very simple to make and can be substituted in this recipe. Along with that her cookbook, Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons, includes more salad dressing recipes and a couple of quinoa salads as well. Her summer quinoa salad is one of my favorites!

Other recipes you may enjoy:

Quinoa salad with cucumbers, chickpeas, and a yogurt dill dressing
Recipe type: Side, or main dish
This tangy quinoa salad could serve 8-10 people as a side dish, or 4-6 as a nourishing main dish
  • 2 cups quinoa
  • 2 cups warm filtered water for soaking
  • 2 tbls raw apple cider vinegar (you can also use yogurt, kombucha, whey or kefir)
  • 2 cups filtered water for cooking
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cucumber, peeled if desired, and cubed
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1½-2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15 oz can)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 small garlic cloves, minced or crushed
  • 2 tbls fresh dill, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. The night before you make this dish, plan to soak your quinoa to make it more digestible. Place the quinoa in a non-reactive bowl or jar (preferably glass), and mix it with the warm filtered water and your raw ACV. Allow it to soak for at least 8 hours, and up to 24.
  2. When you're ready to make the salad, drain and rinse your quinoa in a fine sieve, allowing the water to run clear.
  3. Place your rinsed quinoa in a pot with 2 more cups of water and bring it to a boil.
  4. When it's boiling, cover the pot, and turn the heat to low, allowing it to simmer for 12-15 minutes. (These instructions are the same as Kimi's basic quinoa recipe and work for the various brands of quinoa that I've tried).
  5. When the quinoa is done, place it in a bowl to cool. You can leave it on the counter, or put it in the refrigerator.
  6. In the meantime, assemble your dressing. Whisk together the olive oil, yogurt, lemon juice, garlic cloves, fresh dill and salt and pepper.
  7. When the quinoa has cooled, gently mix in the cucumber, red onion and chickpeas.
  8. Pour the dressing over the quinoa mixture (you may not need it all), and mix thoroughly.
  9. This salad is best served at room temperature after preparing it, or lightly chilled. Top with additional dill, feta cheese, olives, or tomatoes if desired!