Not exactly the Two Hot Tamales melon salad. Photo by Paul Gonzalez Videla/Detroit Free Press/MCT
Susan over at Food Blogga has a great watermelon salsa to try for the holiday weekend, and just the sight of it got me thinking about how much I love melon -- cantaloupe, honeydew, even watermelon -- and how seldom I eat it because you never can be sure what you're getting when you buy a melon at the market.
This may be the weekend to run the gauntlet, take the risk, go for broke, buy a few melons and crank out a super easy, really quick, knock your socks off salad with Thai overtones.
I confess to going easy on the fish sauce (to-o-o salty; use lo-so tamari instead) and to throttling back on the chilis in the dressing, preferring to serve a little dish of thinly sliced peppers on the side. They're there if you want to bring tears to your eyes while the rest of us enjoy a nice zing, nothing more.
Wouldn't dare take credit for the recipe, only for being smart enough to remember it when I feel game for melon roulette. Heft them, thump them, sniff them and it's still nowhere near a sure thing.
Thank Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, architects of this salad. Didn't you love them early on when the "Great Chefs..." series on WYES showed them in their little punk hairdos doing fusion cuisine long before anyone else. Herewith, a fabulous 15-year-old recipe for a cool summer salad.
THAI MELON SALAD
3 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup low sodium tamari
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 serrano chili (more if you're brave), split, seeds and ribs removed, sliced
1 good teaspoon lime zest
1/4 to 1/2 cup dried shrimp (look for them in little cellophane bags at Latin and Asian markets)
1/2 cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts
6 cups assorted melon cubes or balls (2 cups each of cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon, separated)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
For the dressing, mix garlic, brown sugar, tamari, lime juice, chili and lime zest in a bowl. Roughly chop the shrimp and peanuts by hand and add to the garlic mixture. (The dressing can be made in advance and stored up to 3 days in the refrigerator.) To serve, arrange each variety of melon in alternating rows on a platter or in individual bowls. Spoon dressing over melon in a strip and garnish with cilantro. Serve chilled. Makes 6 servings.