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This traditional Ensalada de Nochebuena or Christmas Eve Salad is a colourful fruit salad featuring fresh pomegranates, oranges, pineapple, jicama and beets in a citrusy dressing.
Although most popular as part of a traditional Christmas Eve dinner in Mexico, this healthy salad will add festive flair to your holiday table at any time. It’s also the perfect vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free side.
What I like most about this traditional salad of beets, pineapple, pomegranates and oranges is that it’s refreshingly different than anything else you’ll eat (such as tamales) during Navidad in Mexico or Guatemala.
It’s also incredibly easy to make, low in fat and packed with vitamins and minerals.
And during the winter months when the days are short and darkness blankets the northern stretches of our vast continent, I’m grateful for a splash of colour.
Ensalada de Nochebuena is guaranteed to lift your spirits!
Pomegranate Season Coincides with the Christmas Season and New Years
Another reason to make Ensalada de Nochebuena is that December also happens to be pomegranate season. Pomegranate season typically runs from the end of October through to early February.
This recipe is a great way to enjoy the freshness and availability of this jewel-coloured seasonal fruit.
Packed with Vitamin C, fibre and antioxidants, pomegranates have a burst-in-your-mouth flavour that’s as invigorating as an early morning walk on a white sand beach.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the tiny red jewels of nectar holding the seeds inside a pomegranate are actually called arils? These pockets of juice are also packed with fiber.
So eat them up and impress your friends by using “aril” in your next game of Scrabble!
Other Key Ingredients in Ensalada de NocheBuena
Other key ingredients in Ensalada de Nochebuena Mexicana include pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds that will be toasted and sprinkled on top), fresh oranges, firm cooked beets, apple and pineapple.
In Mexico, it’s also traditional to include jicama, the edible root that’s also known as the Mexican turnip or potato.
However, if you can’t find jicama and are tempted to substitute a turnip or potato for jicama, don’t do it!
A jicama isn’t as starchy as potato and has a mild flavour almost like an apple.
Pro Tips and Substitutions
- If you can’t find jicama, it’s possible to substitute another crisp vegetable such as fennel. Your best bet if you can’t find jicama at your local market, is to substitute something completely different.
- When jicama isn’t available I like to use pears or thinly sliced fennel. While you wouldn’t see fennel as part of a traditional Mexican Christmas dinner, the light anise flavour and bright white flesh of fennel is actually a surprisingly delicious addition to this salad.
- The key if you do use fennel is to use only the inner sections and slice it very thinly.
- When selecting your oranges, opt for seedless oranges.
- You can use any combination of citrus fruits such as blood oranges and grapefruit or even mandarin oranges. The secret is to make sure you remove all the pith, which is the bitter white fibre within an orange peel.
- When slicing pineapple for this recipe, save the husk of your fresh pineapple to use for authentic Guatemalan Ponche de Frutas.
- If you have extra pomegranate seeds just store them covered in the refrigerator for up to three days. Unpeeled pomegranates stay fresh in the fridge for up to three weeks so stock up while they’re in season!
- If you’re making this salad in advance, I recommend preparing all of the fruit EXCEPT the apples (they can discolour) up to one day ahead. Store the fruit in the refrigerator in a bowl with the fruit separated and covered with plastic wrap. Just before serving, chop the apples and add to the salad.
- When toasting pumpkin seeds, just toast until browned not burnt. They’ll make a popping sound when ready.
- If you have extra beets, use them up in chilled beet gazpacho with pepitas (pumpkin seeds).
- For a crowd, extend this salad by using mixed greens as a base. Just double the dressing, toss the extra with baby kale or arugula salad and layer the beets, oranges and other fruit on top.
How to Create Your Christmas Eve Salad
Because this is one of the most popular Christmas foods in Mexico during Navidad, there are as many variations of Ensalada de Nochebuena as there are cooks.
But I prefer to make mine a composed salad so that the colours from the beets and the pomegranates don’t bleed into the other ingredients.
Once you’ve prepared and composed the fruit for your salad, whip up the salad dressing in a separate bowl.
A popular variation of Ensalada de Nochebuena features jamaica (from the dried hibiscus flower). The tart liquid is added to the chopped ingredients for a different, much juicier fruit side dish.
For this recipe for a composed salad, just pour the salad dressing over the composed fruit and vegetables. You don’t need to stir it.
Squeeze fresh lime juice over the salad to add a burst of freshness and to help prevent the apples from discolouring. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and pepitoria.
If you have any leftovers, you can simply mix the fruit and vegetables together and you get to enjoy both versions — composed and mixed!
How to Serve This Easy Ensalada de Nochebuena Recipe for Navidad
- Although this salad is most popular as a Mexican Christmas Eve recipe, it’s just as delicious as a holiday brunch. It adds a burst of freshness and colour to a buffet table and pairs well with dishes such as this creamy, cheesy Spanish Breakfast Casserole.
- If you have leftover jicama, use it up in this recipe for tangy apple jicama slaw and serve it with tacos or spicy chili.
- There’s no reason to make this Ensalada de Nochebuena recipe only during the Christmas holiday season. The jewelled colours of this salad make it a beautiful side dish for New Year’s Eve or even Valentine’s Day.
- For more Mexican holiday recipes, check out our collection of 25 International Holiday Appetizers.
If you’ve tried this recipe for Ensalada de Nochebuena, please rate the recipe and let us know how the dish turned out in the comments below.
Ensalada de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve Salad)
- sharp knife
- cutting board
- 4 medium beets boiled, peeled and sliced
- 2 whole oranges peeled and sliced
- 1 large red apple Gala or Delicious, peeled and sliced
- 1 whole pomegranate seeds only
- 3 slices fresh pineapple cut into chunks
- 1 Tbsp fresh lime
- 1 cup jicama peeled and thinly sliced optional
- 1/2 cup pepitoria pumpkin seeds toasted in a skillet
- 1 cup lettuce romaine or meslun
- 1 Tbsp mayonnaise Hellman's
- 5 Tbsp olive oil
- 2 Tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Prepare all the fruit (except apple if doing in advance) and chill separately
- Prepare jicama (peel and slice) if available
- Line a salad dish or plate with lettuce leaves
- Fill the bowl wth prepared fruit or arrange the chilled fruit on a plate
- Mix salad dressing in a glass jar, shake and drizzle over fruit
- Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds and toasted pepitoria
- Squeeze the juice of a lime over top
- If you can't find jicama, it's possible to substitute another crisp vegetable such as fennel
- If you have extra pomegranate seeds just store them covered in the refrigerator for up to three days.
- Unopened pomegranates stay fresh in the fridge for up to three weeks so stock up while they're in season!
- Extend this salad by using mixed greens as a base. Just double the dressing, toss the extra with baby kale or arugula salad and layer the beets, oranges and other fruit on top.
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For more holiday recipes, check out these festive ideas:
Dividing her time between Canada, Guatemala and Mexico (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel. Her award-winning travel and food writing has appeared in Lonely Planet’s cookbook Mexico: From the Source, National Geographic Traveler, Fodor’s and 100+ other publications.
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