I made this dish twice to get it right. The first time, I was going for salsa. It had hot peppers in it, vinegar, oil and sea salt. The second incarnation was more of a fresh fruit salad. Both were mellow, juicy and crisp little concoctions, like a summer cocktail. When I finally decided on the right balance of flavors, I hit a wall on what to name it. Salsa, or salad? Then again, what is the difference — really — between a chunky, pico de gallo-style salsa and a finely chopped, tabouli-like salad. They were one and the same. So call it what you will, but this recipe’s a simple, summery marriage of both worlds.
Second of all, I want to thank everyone who chimed in on my eggplant dilemma on the last post. I have learned so much more in about eggplant allergies in the last four days thanks to it — which would have never happened on my own. Namely, that discovery about eggplant being particularly prickly when not cooked to a mush. This might be obvious to some people, but it went off like a light bulb in my head. I don’t think I’d ever roasted eggplant to that degree of al dente-ness before.
culled from the coolest place on earth: a late-summer Farmers’ Market
This melon-cucumber salad has only a few ingredients, all of which were found at the Farmers’ Market except for the lime, oil, salt and pepper. It’s a particularly good time for the melons. I smelled several cantaloupes at a vendor’s stand and each one of them filled my nostrils with a fresh, slightly floral fragrance. The flavor of the one I chose was incomparable to what’s available the rest of the year, too. It’s also nice to get cukes without a thick layer of what looks to be my ex-college roommate’s hair wax smeared all over it, like the cucumbers you find in the supermarket. Or if not those, then wrapped in a tight sheath of plastic and twice as expensive, like the prim English cucumber alternative.
As a friend who tried this afterward remarked, “The cilantro really makes this.” The distinct herb seems to be the tie that binds the sweet and savory dish together as one. Though it’s fresh, mild-tasting fare on its own, I’d recommend pouring this salad on a full plate stacked with your favorite meats, grilled veggies, and what-have-yous. Its acidic juices help cleanse the palate and its tightly packed pellets of cucumber lend satisfying crunch.
Cucumber Melon Salad
(makes about 6 side servings)
3 cups fresh cantaloupe, diced to small cubes
2 cups fresh cucumber, diced to equal-sized cubes (keeping skin on if unwaxed)
juice from 1 lime (2 tablespoons or more)
zest from the lime
1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup tomato, diced to small cubes
2 scallions (or fresh onion tops), thinly sliced
1 bunch cilantro, coarsley chopped
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 tablespoon fruity, extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 fresh jalapeno, seeds removed and chopped very finely (optional, or choose a milder pepper as an alternative)
Fold all the ingredients together in a serving bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours before serving, to let flavors incorporate. Serve alone, as a garnish for meats or as a dip with chips.
(for 6 side servings)
1/2 of a cantaloupe (at $3.50 each):$1.25
1 1/2 cucumbers (at 3/$2): $1.00
1/4 cup chopped onion plus onion tops (from a bunch of 5 fresh onions for $2): $0.30
1/4 cup chopped tomato (at $3/lb): $0.60
1 bunch cilantro: $2.00
1 lime: $0.33
1/2 jalapeno, 1 Tb olive oil, pinches of salt and pepper: $0.25
Two brownie points: Remember that keeping the green skin on a cucumber means more fiber, in addition less work and more color in your dish. I mean really, whose idea was it to give the cucumber a slicked-back Guido ‘do? Aren’t these (and apples, and — sigh — many other fruits and veggies) shiny enough on their own? But enough on that. Both the cucumber and the cantaloupe share the blessing of being low-calorie carriers of plentiful nutrients, like Vitamin A, C, potassium, antioxidants — and both are purported to have “cooling” benefits. Not such a bad plus for a summer in New York.