Wednesday, August 24, 2011

thai melon salad

thai melon salad
last week, larry and i had a really
lovely day. it was the day after my
birthday and we both took off from
work. i drank coffee in bed and, later,
we ate lunch outside, very close
to the ocean. we bought fig vinegar
from an olive oil shop and sat on the
boardwalk with our legs dangling over
the sand. we went to see the help,
which i've been hoping to see in the theatre,
since finishing the book last november.

in between the beach and the movies,
we stopped at the book store, where i was
given a really great gift: unlimited time
to look through as many cookbooks as i
wanted. and, truthfully, that's quite a gift.
as much as i love cookbooks, i rarely buy
them. and when, i do, it's a specific book
that i've had my eye on for a while. rarely,
do i just plant myself in front
of the shelves and read.

ultimately, i left with three - two baking
books that, it turns out, i actually had wanted,
but had forgotten about,
and a third, cooking in the moment
by andrea reusing.

to be honest, i keep picking up and putting down
the last one. i would decide that i was not
going to keep it and then i'd turn one last page
and see a recipe, like the one for
black sesame sauce.
in that case, i read the recipe twice
and thought, ok, i know
how to make this. as i shut the book,
i noticed a page reading
garlic and crab fried rice.
this happened several times.
ultimately, it was the kale panini and
salt preserved chilies that cinched
my decision.

that night, i got back in bed and read
cooking in the moment from cover to cover.
and, in spite of my curiosity about the
recipes above, i knew that the first dish i
would be making was the
spicy melon salad with peanuts and mint.
it uses fish sauce. and a lot of it.
need i say more?
and, then, you should have seen me the next
day, standing at the grocery store, staring at
the melons, trying to channel my melon
knowledge. is it the santa claus melon that's
really sweet or is it the canary? are any melons
really dark orange? or yellow? what will happen
if i add watermelon? will the color run?

ultimately, i was lucky.
a melon expert - or at least he seemed
that way to me - helped me pick three
small, sweet flavorful globes. he was spot
on. (except when the next day i realized
that i somehow had two green-fleshed melons,
but i'm very over it.)

after a search for my melon baller -
a tool i'm pretty sure i haven't used since
culinary school - i cracked open the melons
on sunday, prepared to make a cooling
summer salad for a hot summer night.
except it was sunday.
when there was lightening.
and thunder.
and rainstorms that made me fear
for our basement.
so, i scooped melons for a cool evening.
balled out melon
honeydew, galla, crenshaw
and, that's ok, too.
the melons were incredibly sweet,
floral and juicy. i pulled small
and large balls from
all three:
the honeydew,
the crenshaw and
the galia.
(as for the remaining melon in
each half, i used a spoon to separate
them from their skins, put all three
into the same container and have
been adding the pieces and sweet
juice to my smoothies in the morning.
it's been a nice change.)

i whisked together the juice of two limes,
a few glugs from a new bottle of fish sauce -
i forgot how powerful a brand new bottle
could be - a squeeze of agave and an
unfortunately, mild, chopped
red fresno chile pepper.

the dressing was powerful.
slightly spicy, slightly sweet,
tangy and salty. i tossed it over
the melons, took a premature bite
and knew that i would love this dish.
simplified, it reminded me of a
sweet green papaya salad.

the recipe said to let it the mixture
sit for at least 45 minutes or up to
several hours. we went for three.
before serving, i topped it with
shreds of mint and salted peanuts
and we dug in.

the marinating liquid is
unbelievably bold.
but, the melons, when picked up with
a fork, instead of scooped,
gave a significantly more subtle delivery.
i don't know how many fruit salads are eaten
with a spoon,
but it would be a shame to leave all that
limey-fish sauciness on the bottom
of the bowl.
team spoon. all the way.

this salad slash side dish slash
potential dessert is everything i look
for in a recipe.
it's different, so it won't see itself
coming and going. but, more importantly,
it's sweet and salty and soft and crunchy.
it's slightly spicy and kind of tangy
and would be perfect on
a hot night spent outside.

it was a recipe that gave me
reassurance. it made me feel justified
about buying the cookbook. and, about
making larry amuse himself in the bookstore
while i dealt with my indecisiveness.
and, it made me find my melon baller.
worth it all around.
melon, chopped peanuts, chile, mint, fish sauce, lime juice
thai melon salad
adapted from cooking in the moment
i followed this recipe pretty closely. the only real changes were using agave instead of sugar and using a serrano chile pepper and a red fresno chile pepper, because neither were very spicy. with a spicy pepper, i would have stuck to one. i also chose not to measure the peanuts - just grabbed a handful and chopped.

i agree that this salad should only sit for a couple hours. by the next day, the melons had expelled a lot of their own liquid and mellowed the flavor of the dish significantly.

2-3 assorted melons
2 large, juicy limes, juiced
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 tablespoon agave
1 spicy chile pepper, chopped
10 mint leaves
1 small handful roasted and salted peanuts

halve melons. using melon baller, scoop melon into balls, transferring to a measuring cup as you scoop. measure 4 cups melon. transfer melons to mixing bowl.

in liquid measuring cup, measure 1/4 cup lime juice. whisk in fish sauce, agave and chile pepper. pour lime juice mixture over melons; toss to combine. cover; chill 45 minutes, or up to several hours.

when ready to serve, rip mint leaves into smaller pieces. chop peanuts.

using a slotted spoon, transfer melon to serving platter or bowls. top with spoonfuls of marinade. garnish with mint and chopped peanuts.

1 comment:

at the farmers' market said...

Yum. This looks wonderful. Gotta try it.