Posts Tagged ‘cold salads’

It’s melon season in Southwest France and I’m crying that I’m missing it. They’re incredible – a variety called charentes with a deep orange flesh and a fragrant sweetness that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. So so good. When I visit, I’ll make a point of buying several at the markets and the farmer will carefully select and mark them – 1, 2, 3 – based on what order to eat them. Amazing. My dear friend Bill often makes a simple melon salad with a bit of piment d’esplette, olive oil and sea salt that is so great. I think he once pickled the melon which was also fantastic.

Speaking of melon salads, a friend got married a few weekends ago and the food was outstanding – shout out to Maison Cuisine. There was a salad on the dinner buffet that really tickled my fancy and reminded me of Bill – melon, red onion, cucumber with the delightful addition of candied ginger. I made a quick note in my phone for later (one never knows where you’ll find inspiration), grabbed another cocktail and danced the night away.

I can’t really get great melons like those in France, more’s the pity. Sometimes, for a short week or two, something similar might be at the farmers market but for the most part, it’s rather bland cantaloupes. Sad. My plan was to take one of those mediocre grocery store cantaloupes and see if I could zhuzh it up with some of these flavors, inspired both by Bill and that wedding salad. I bought one and that was the plan but then I did something typical. I forgot about that melon. I overcommitted myself and never quite got to it. But something amazing happened as it sat on the counter. That damn thing ripened to an amazing sweetness. Sure it was just this side of turning but holy hell was it good – sweet and flavorful and wonderful. Better than when I bought it, most certainly!

The combination of sweet melon, cucumber, red onion and those surprise bits of ginger with a bit of lemon juice, mint and a hint of spice was outstanding. Crunchy, cold, refreshingly wonderful, it’s another one for those too hot and too tired to cook kind of days. I had originally thought of adding some honey to bring up the sweetness but my lackadaisical attitude took care of that and I didn’t even need it. If your melon isn’t quite up to par, maybe add a little honey. Or just forget about it on the counter for a week because that apparently works too. 

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: PROCRASTINATION FOR THE WIN! If you can’t find a good melon, maybe plan ahead for this one. I can’t guarantee that a mediocre melon will turn into a great one after a week on the counter but it can’t hurt to try. 

thirteen years ago: Tart Tips & Tart DoughSour Cherry Sorbet

twelve years ago: Betty’s Pies exploring Minnesota

eleven years ago: Sweet & Spicy Beer Mustard

ten years ago: Bastille Day Bomb PopsSour Cherry Slab Pie

nine years ago: Spicy Pineapple PaletasHungarian Cherry Soup

eight years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

seven years ago: Blender Gazpacho,   

six years ago: Blueberries & Cream PopsiclesBeef Bulgogi & Rice Cake SkewersThai Grilled Coconut Rice & Banana

five years ago: Salmon Rilettes

four years ago: Greek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

three years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

two years ago: Pico de Gallo White Bean SaladSimple Summer Fruit Tarts

last year: Sorrel (Hibiscus Drink)


serves 4-6

I like a bit of spice in this mix; it goes so well with the sweetness of the melon and the herbal notes from the mint. In the spirit of my French friends, I used piment d’esplette, a mild ground red pepper from the Basque country but can be hard to find. In its place, Aleppo pepper is nice but also may be a challenge to locate. That delightful Mexican spice mix, Tajin, is great or, taking a tip from Cooks Illustrated, use a mix of sweet paprika and cayenne.

1 cantaloupe, peeled, halved, seeded, and cut into 1 ½” chunks (6 cups)

½ red onion, thinly sliced

½ English cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced thin

1 generous tablespoon candied ginger, sliced into thin batons

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon mild honey, optional

1 teaspoon piment d’esplette (or dried Aleppo pepper, Tajin or ¾ teaspoon sweet paprika + ¼ teaspoon cayenne)

½ teaspoon sea salt

¼ cup fresh mint, chopped

  1. Taste your melon: if you’re lucky and it’s very sweet and flavorful you can skip the honey. 
  2. Combine red onion and lemon juice in large bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. 
  3. Stir in piment d’esplette (or spice of choice), salt and honey if needed. 
  4. Add the cantaloupe, cucumber, candied ginger and chopped mint; stir to combine. 
  5. Transfer to shallow serving bowl and serve. Salad is best eaten the day it’s made.

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I haven’t been cooking much for myself lately. It’s been all work recipes all the time and then scraping something together from the leftovers. I’ve been laying low, depressed and dismayed at where we are as a country with a low simmering, building anger. If one more white CIS males tells me it will be ok, I will punch him. It’s not OK. It just isn’t. I keep thinking back to 2018 when someone dismissed my concern over his presidential choice and lectured me that everything will be fine, there are checks and balances, blah blah blah. I expressed my doubts then, was summarily shot down and lo and behold, I was proven right. My concerns were real and justified. It was a classic deflection to avoid a difficult discussion, a be-quiet-little-lady response meant to make me feel small and ill informed. Except I am neither small nor ill informed. Because here we are. In the last weeks, I’ve lost autonomy of my own body, our country is veering into extreme religious rule, our courts are now politicized and there was a mass shooting 30 minutes from my house. Another one. We can’t go to school, we can’t go to church, go to a concert, watch a parade or grocery shop or go to a movie without a lingering fear we might die. We’ve become numb to it all and I don’t like it one bit.

In the meantime, I write postcards for pro-choice and sensible gun control candidates, I volunteer escort at a women’s clinic when I can and I try to get through the days. And I guess I have to eat. Yes, I am steering this difficult topic to food because as much time as I spend thinking, talking and writing about food, it hasn’t been providing the usual levels of comfort. That’s concerning. I don’t feel like cooking and I don’t feel like eating.

My savior? Much to my great great surprise … bagged salads. And that’s what I choose to talk about today. Bagged salads. Weird topic, definitely, but I it’s about all I can handle right now. In general, I don’t care for lettuce (what’s the point?) and I really don’t care for pre-bagged salads. They always look sad and droopy and the flavor combinations are surprisingly boring. However … I have noticed that Trader Joe’s bucks this trend and carries some really interesting and delicious mixes – not just in the greens but the dressings and crunchy add ins too. There’s texture AND flavor. Bravo TJ’s. It’s about all I can handle these days – bagged salads and frozen appetizers. 

These combinations gave me a rare moment of inspiration as I mustered up the energy to make something refreshing and crunchy, with a minimal amount of cooking. Just a lot of chopping. Something about wielding that big knife felt really good. It’s sort of Vietnamese and maybe a little Thai, with a coconut milk based dressing spiked with lime juice, ginger and my favorite, makrut lime. That last one may be tough to find – try a Thai leaning market. I bought a little plant this winter and have been happy to have a supply of fresh leaves nearby but I have a stash in the freezer too just in case. I’ve been eating a lot of shrimp because they defrost and cook quickly and I don’t have the brain space to plan too far out. The vegetables are bright and crunchy and hold up pretty well and sure, it veers into slaw territory, but I really enjoy that crunch. And right now, the goal is just to breathe and get something on the plate. This works.

STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR. BREATHE AND FIGHT LIKE HELL. Maybe chop up a bunch of vegetables – wielding a big knife is therapeutic and makes you feel like a boss. Or just buy an interesting bag of salad but don’t be complacent about what is happening in our world. Don’t. At one point, America was the great experiment. No longer. Get involved. Write for Postcards to Voters. Pay attention. READ. Get your news from trusted news services and read it, don’t watch it. TV News is entertainment – don’t forget that. Read in depth coverage from publications that adhere to ethical standards of reporting and the classic elements of journalism in America. If they’ve won a few Pulitzers, you’re on the right track. And for crissakes VOTE. 25% of the population is holding us hostage by counting on our laziness and disinterest. Don’t stand for it. 

thirteen years ago: Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

twelve years ago: Big American Flag CakeSour Cherry Cobbler

eleven years ago: Strawberry ShortcakeSweet & Spicy Beer MustardLife in Southwest France

ten years ago: Spanish Sunday Lunch – Patatas AioliStrawberry Hibiscus PopsiclesFarro Tabbouleh

nine years ago: Passionfruit Chiffon CakeBBQ Baked BeansHush PuppiesTin Roof SundaeWatermelon Aqua FrescaRhubarb Beer Jam

eight years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise

seven years ago: Onion Rye Berry BreadRadish ButterSlow Roasted Spiced Pineapple  

six years ago:  Sedano e Pomodori (Braised Celery and Tomato)Pina Colada SherbetOrange Julius with Strawberry and Pineapple variations)Chicken Shawarma Pocket SandwichRoasted Cherry Vanilla Frozen Yogurt

five years ago: Michelada Style ClamsGrand AioliSalmon Rilettes

four years ago: Greek Salad Piadini Sandwiches

three years ago: Strawberry Mascarpone Galette

two years ago: Raspberry Rhubarb Streusel TartGinger Mint Lemonade Base

last year: Mexican Seafood CocktailSorrel (Hibiscus Drink)


Serves 4

When grilling shrimp, I always skewer them. Makes it easy to flip quickly and avoid overcooking. Chasing loose shrimp around the grill is no fun. If you don’t have makrut lime leaf, skip it. Nothing else quite duplicates that flavor and the dressing is still pretty good without it.

for the dressing:

1 cup full fat coconut milk

1 teaspoon honey

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1 large makrut lime leaf, finely diced

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon Vietnamese fish sauce

1-2 small fresh red chilies, finely diced or ¼ teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

for the salad:

1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled & deveined (21-25 count)

½ head napa cabbage, thinly sliced crosswise, about 4 cups

½ medium English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced 

½ medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced, about ½ cup

1 medium carrot, shredded or sliced into thin batons, about 1 cup

¼ small red onion, thinly sliced, about ½ cup

¼ cup roasted salted cashews or peanuts, roughly chopped

2 Tablespoons torn Thai basil leaves

2 Tablespoons torn mint leaves

  1. The night before: In a medium jar, add the dressing ingredients and shake to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld. Shake before using.
  2. Pour about ½ cup of the dressing into heavy Ziploc bag. Add the shrimp; turn to coat and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 
  3. Thread the marinated shrimp onto metal or wooden skewers and preheat a grill to medium high. 
  4. Grill the shrimp until opaque and just cooked through, a few minutes on each side. Alternatively, use a stovetop grill pan or sauté over medium high. If sautéing, add a bit of oil to the hot pan first.
  5. In a large bowl, combine all the vegetables, nuts and most of the basil and mint. Toss with the about ½ cup dressing, just enough to lightly coat, reserving a tablespoon or two to drizzle on top.
  6. Add the grilled shrimp on top, drizzle with the reserved dressing and garnish with some additional basil and mint.

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Something odd happens in hot weather.  I lose my appetite.  Trust me, this is highly unusual.  Nothing sounds good so I pick at this, poke at that.  I eat weird things that make no sense (French Onion Soup?) and nothing seems to satisfy.  My energy levels are low and my motivation is lower.  It’s not even mid-summer but I’m going to have to figure this out quick before my standard meal becomes a couple popsicles and a flop in front of the fan.


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