Fruit salad is usually a filler, but this recipe brings it to the forefront of the side dish conversation.

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Fresh Fruit Salad
Credit: Jen Causey

If you had asked me what a "fruit salad" was a few weeks ago, I would've probably said a bowl of mixed fruit. Occasionally, restaurants will get fancy and add a poppyseed vinaigrette, and Southern grandmas will forever believe "fruit salad" should include whipping cream. To me, fruit salad is usually a filler recipe. It's the brunch or lunch side dish that's a "just-because" addition. Just because we're having a cheesy hash brown casserole, let's add some fruit to the side. Just because we're serving burgers and fries, we might as well get a little good-for-you in there—add some fruit to the side. But Southern Living's Fresh Fruit Salad Recipe brought fruit salad to the forefront of the conversation.

I'll admit it: I originally grabbed this fruit salad recipe for the "just because" reasons. It was the first college game day of the season, and our friends already had meat (x2), macaroni and cheese, and a plethora of dips and sweets on the menu. Though I'd be happy as a clam eating barbecue and cheese for the rest of my life, the rest of my life wouldn't be very long if I did. To add color to our tailgate eats, I offered to bring Southern Living's Creamy Broccoli Slaw and Fresh Fruit Salad.

Though it wasn't surprising how easy this fresh fruit salad was to throw together, what was shocking was how much it wowed me. After whisking together orange juice and honey (go to your farmers' market and purchase quality, local honey, y'all) for a simple dressing, you combine strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, oranges, and honeydew melon balls in the same bowl. The ingredient that took this fruit salad from ho-hum to yum, though, is fresh mint. The mint, dressing, and natural fruit juices blend together while the mixture chills in the fridge to create the most refreshing flavors, which beautifully offset heavy football food. I know this seems like a "duh" recipe, but often, the best ones are just that (looking at you, tomato sandwich).

I could tell that everyone at the tailgate who scooped a bit of fruit salad onto their plate did it "just because," but I noticed each of them perk up upon taking a bite. There was a moment of recognition there: This is not just mixed fruit; it's elevated. Fresh mint was the ticket this fruit salad needed to be taken seriously as a side dish.

Since, admittedly, fruit salad is no macaroni and cheese, we had leftovers. The next morning, I spooned Fresh Fruit Salad over Greek yogurt and sprinkled granola on top for breakfast, and bam: My usual, boring fruit-and-yogurt combination was suddenly something I'd order at a weekend brunch on the town.

The next time I need to add fruit to my menu "just because," I'll be serving this Fresh Fruit Salad and waiting for around-the-room reactions.