Quick pickled cucumber and melon salad
August 22, 2011 § 4 Comments
It’s been another crazy week, this last week. More travel, more weddings (an exceptionally gorgeous and happy one of some close friends), and a running of errands for my own that could give the running of the bulls a run for its money in the category of harrowing, stampede-like qualities.
It’s all been beyond fun, but also beyond exhausting. So, I’m going to take a little moment to share this refreshing little gem of a salad with you. It makes me think of a spa food, which makes me think, “ahhhhhhh, I’m so relaxed.” (In spite of a certain preponderance of the evidence indicating the opposite.)
Granted, I’ve never been to a spa, so I can’t really speak to the nature of the food served at one. But, here’s what I imagine spa food to be like: light and refreshing, nourishing and satisfying, full of pure, sensual flavors. Food that lets you feel like you’re pampering yourself, while also being good for you.
If I ran a spa, that’s what the food would be like (and the spa would be somewhere in Montana, since we’re imagining here, and there would be horses, and a little lake…). This salad fulfills all of those requirements.
It all depends on a little technique I’m going to call ‘salting the melon.’ Which, totally sounds like an innuendo when I put it like that, doesn’t it?! (It’s not, I swear.) Have you ever salted your melon? (Oh for heaven’s sake. That sounds even more like an innuendo!)
I was introduced to the practice by a friend who, I’m pretty sure, learned it in Mexico. There, it is common practice to salt fruit, and then to follow the salt with a dusting of ground chile pepper and a spritz of lime. The effect is remarkably exhilarating, especially when applied to super-ripe tropical fruit, which can be cloying. Delicious, but cloying.
Obviously, there are times when you don’t want to salt your fruit. For example, we took a little 9 year old, visiting from Norway, grocery shopping a couple of days ago, and taught him how to choose a ripe melon based on scent. (A little tow-headed boy jabbering away in Norwegian while shoving his nose up to the rinds of musk melons and cantaloupes and inhaling enthusiastically, now ranks among my top ridiculously cute images.)
We picked well. We had the melon for dessert, and, though I think it was a canary melon, we had a renaming ceremony then and there to dub it “juicy melon.” It was perfect. To do anything to change it would have been criminal.
Then again, you can’t really get away with salting a bad melon. The result will be bad. The melon has to be very ripe and very sweet for the salt to do its job of coaxing out all the nuances of underlying flavors. I guess it really just comes down to, when are you in the mood for unadulterated melon, and when are you in the mood for melon that has been enhanced into something of a dish.
Which brings me back to this salad, which I am thoroughly obsessed with, by the by. This salad was inspired by one from MeghanVK that I saw on food52 (big surprise).
The salt is used basically to create a quick pickle (no vinegar required!). And, the addition of cucumber shoots the cooling, juicy factor through the roof, somewhere up in the stratosphere, probably near Cassiopeia.
Meghan suggests adding one extra salty element to the salad, and she used prosciutto. Now, as much as I wish I did, I do not stock prosciutto regularly, but I had melon and cucumbers, so I decided to go ahead and combine them to eat without the prosciutto. And, I loved it sans prosciutto! So much so that I’ve made it at least 3 or 4 more times since.
All you do is chunk up some melon and a few cucumbers, sprinkle them with some salt and sugar and sit back to wait for 10-20 minutes. The salt plays pied piper to draw the juices out of the fruits (cucumber is a fruit, might I remind you), leaving their flavors concentrated and lush, with a nice salty contrast to the sweet. Drain them, add a sprinkling of black pepper if you wish, and then get ready to munch. I’m also thinking this combination would taste really lovely with a sort-of Thai lemongrass-mint-coconut dressing, but that will be an experiment for another day. When I have more than 10 minutes to make a salad.
Quick Pickle Cucumber Melon Salad (adapted from MeghanVK) (serves about 4)
- 3-4 medium cucumbers, peeled
- 1 small melon, or ½ large one – use honeydew, cantaloupe, musk melon, canary melon, any of those really juicy sweet ones
- 1 Tbs. coarse Kosher salt
- 2 tsp. sugar
- black pepper or a squirt of lime juice, if desired
- Slice the cucumbers into 1/4-½ inch thick slices. Put them in a bowl.
- Seed and peel the melon and cut it into chunks about the same size as – or slightly larger than – the cucumber. Add it to the bowl.
- Toss the cucumber and melon with the salt and sugar and allow it to sit for 10-20 minutes. Then, drain the bowl.
- Taste a piece of cucumber or melon. If it is a bit too salty for your taste, give the fruits a quick rinse in cold water and drain. Otherwise, leave as is.
- Refrigerate until ready to serve.
- To serve, sprinkle with a little ground black pepper or a squirt of lime juice. If you wish, you can also add thin, small pieces of prosciutto, or crumbles of feta.