When Nature Decieves You – Melon Salad with Spicy Lime Dressing
Maybe you know how this story goes already – you are at a market and find a beautiful cantaloupe. It is firm, evenly shaded, and shows all the signs of being the epitome of summer melon delight. You take it home, and wait until it starts to smell like melon. And then, one day, you walk past your fruit bowl and swoon at the smell of ripe summer produce. Deciding that now is the time, you cut the melon open and take a taste the supple flesh hidden under the spiny rind. “Bleh,! you explain, “Blah!” Its simply gross. The cantaloupe is somehow unblemished and beautifully perfumed, but entirely devoid of sweetness, what a tease.
If you are like me you may have trouble letting even the grossest of melons meet a bitter end in the trash. If so, I have a suggestion, give your melon a makeover! This spicy melon salad is brilliant because it can transform any sub par summer fruit into a bright and citrus-y summer salad. I think it works particular well for cantaloupes, honeydews, and watermelons, but I can imagine the flavors would be quite successful on a mixed fruit salad with composed of a range of fruits like apples, pineapples, and cherries. Simply adjust the flavors of the dressing to balance the sweetness and acidity of the fruit you are using.
I have a certain method for cutting up melons into long strips that I find works very well for this salad. The long shapes allow the melon to absorb a good deal of the dressing’s flavor over their broad surface area. I also, personally, feel this makes the fruit look stunning from a presentation perspective. If you have one, and want to get fancy with a melon baller, I imagine that would look awesome as well (and really, who doesn’t like the sight of little balls of melon sitting so happily in a bowl!)
In any case, if you want to try out the long strip method of cutting up this melon, start by cutting the fruit in half between the two soft spots that mark the polar ends. Starting with one half, scoop out the seeds with a spoon, being careful not to loose to much of the sweetest part of the flesh that typically sits right next to the very center. Turn the half over onto a cutting board, so that the cut half faces down. A quick note here, once the juices start to flow out of the melon they will likely want to run all over your counter. If you have a wooden resting or carving board, the kind with a little moat that catches juice around the rim, it may come in handy. If you don’t have one you may want to position yourself next to the sink so that you can periodically lift the cutting board and tip the running juices into the sink before they hit the counter top.
Back to the melon, carefully with a paring knife cut a small flat disk of rind off from the top of the melon to expose the orange flesh underneath. Cut the remaining rind off of the melon starting from the top allowing your knife to curve with the melon’s shape as you move towards the bottom. Once you have successfully removed the rind use a larger knife to cut the melon into thin strips from front to back. From here you can simply push the the melon back at an angle and the slices will tip back to resemble fallen dominoes (see below.)
The original recipe I used was from The Splendid Table’s “How to Eat Supper” I have changed it a good deal here. The initial recipe did not call for Olive Oil but I think a nice fruity olive oil adds a lot to the salad, makes it easier to pair with other dishes, and cuts back on the overwhelming acidity of the original recipe. I have also upped the amount of sugar and added a bit of honey as I typically use this recipe on melons that miss the mark on summer sweetness. If you have a particularly sweet melon, you may want to tone down on the sugars in the dish. In terms of pairing this salad would go brilliantly with some simple grilled pork chops, chicken, or a whole grilled fish, making it a great side for most summer BBQs – the only thing to keep in mind is that the sweet limey flavors may attract insects so it is best to keep the bowl covered, or hidden under a mesh dome, when not actively serving.
Melon Salad with Spicy Lime Dressing
1 Medium to Large Cantaloupe Cut into Strips or Balled with a Melon Baller
1 Jalapeno Cut into Thin Slices
1/3 Cup Cilantro (or a Mix of Cilantro and Basil)
4 TBSP Lime Juice
1/2 TSP Honey
1/4 TSP Fish Sauce
1 TSP Raw Sugar
Pinch of Aleppo Pepper Flakes
1-2 TBSP Fruity Olive Oil
Freshly Cracked Black Pepper and Kosher Salt
In a small bowl combine cilantro, lime, jalapeno, honey, sugar, aleppo, and fish sauce and stir. Add olive oil in a slow drizzle and add salt and pepper to taste. I like to give this a little extra peppery kick as I love the contrast of hot black and spicy green peppers against the otherwise sweet flavors of the dish, but that is entirely up to you.
Arrange the melon onto a serving platter and spoon some of the dressing over top, leaving some reserved to serve on the side for particularly adventurous diners.