Wowee (oo là) . . . I’ve think I’ve outdone myself as far as the watermelon salads are going. This one is a keeper. Just a few days ago I prepared and served this salad to a very gastronomically refined French family and their several American guests (including my very non-gastronomically refined brother). I was pleased to see it disappear rather quickly, on all sides.
You might think the green onions and the roquefort would contrast unpleasantly with the delicate watermelon flavor, but this is not the case. They harmonize quite nicely, each flavor distinctly present and combining to make a really wonderful salty/sweet/tangy salad. The addition of the yellow cherry tomatoes was a genius stroke I have to credit to the mother of the family; I had always thought that visually a tomato-watermelon salad was lacking, since it’s red on red, but here the bright yellow gives a nice pop that makes the white-grey roquefort pieces and green onions and parsley more attractive as well.
Roquefort provides our cheesy savory-sharpness, but any kind of bleu cheese would work, including gorgonzola. Sharper and saltier is more interesting than not. The original recipe for this salad comes from Mark Bittman (the king of all simple things made delicious), but I made some minor changes, including tweaking the dressing to sharpen it up with ginger-infused vinegar and lemon olive oil.
Watermelon Tomato Salad with Roquefort
serves 4-6, adapted from Mark Bittman
2 1/2 cups seedless watermelon (about one quarter of a whole watermelon), cut in 1-inch cubes or balls (cut over a bowl to catch the juice and reserve it)
1 1/2 cups red and yellow cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup finely diced or crumbled Roquefort bleu cheese
1/2 cup minced scallions
2 tablespoons lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons ginger-infused vinegar
1/2 cup parsley, roughly chopped
Combine the watermelon, tomato, Roquefort, scallions and salt in a bowl.
Whisk or blend together about 2 tablespoons of the watermelon juice, oil, and vinegar. To serve, dress the salad with this mixture and garnish with parsley. Do not refrigerate and serve within 30 minutes.
This fruitful discovery (of course, pun intended) came out of this year’s Fourth of July barbecue. A friend’s roommate was trying to fry a strawberry in butter, failed, and then (in one of those inexplicable moments of sudden genius) decided to, what the heck, just add a whole lot more strawberries. Several minutes and some additions later he had creamy, sweet, and subtly tart strawberry-infused butter. Did I mention that he’s a professional chef? So those of you with raised eyebrows can just put them down now.
Failing to fry strawberries was an awesome, awesome idea. I spread the strawberry butter on my grilled corn on the cob and fell into raptures. There’s no other way to describe it. Even after grilled peach salad, eggplant cheese dip, a whole lot of PBR, and about 20 rounds of illegal fireworks, I was still thinking about that strawberry butter. So the night ended with three of us standing around the pot, silently ripping off hunks of sourdough bread and dipping them, our chins sticky, our mouths shining, and our hearts full with sweet buttery goodness.
There’s the story, and let us never speak of it again.
This strawberry butter is surprisingly versatile. As mentioned above, it pairs so, so nicely with sweet corn on the cob. I can only imagine the blissfully happy union that would occur with asparagus on the scene. Dessert-wise, it can be a spread for bread, pastry, cake or sweet tartines. Or, as I made for a recent potluck, it can be used as a delicious filling/topping for crepes.
For the crepes (pictured above), I made a strawberry butter sauce, which simply means that the sauce was warm, and more liquid, in order to serve as a better topping. The butter can also be prepared as a dip or spread (as for corn on the cob or bread), which means that it congeals into a creamy consistency. The difference is simply the addition of cream and a longer reduction time to steam out the water.
Using clarified butter will help your final product be homogeneous and not separate into tiers of liquid and fat as it cools. To clarify butter, simply melt a quantity of butter at low temperature, skim off the foam that accumulates on top, let the milk solids settle on the bottom, and reserve the clear butter. Incorporating cream into your spread will also help prevent separation and smooth the consistency.
I wasn’t able to get a photo of the strawberry butter spread, but when I do I will update this post to include that alternative.
2 cups fresh strawberries
1/4 cup (1 stick) butter, clarified
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar, or to taste
Dice most of the strawberries, reserving a few to slice prettily and one or two for garnish.
Heat the clarified butter in a skillet. Add the strawberries and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Let simmer gently until liquid is reduced (10 minutes or more), whisking regularly and taking care not to let the butter burn.
Add sugar as needed to sweeten the sauce.
Serve immediately as warm sauce for crepes, or serve room-temperature as a spread or dip.
Yesterday was the opening of Taste of Chicago, a five-day showcase for the most classic and the most creative restaurants on this city’s diverse food scene.
Along with staples like the Chicago-famous hot dogs, deep dish pizza, Eli’s cheesecake, foot-long corn dogs, and Billy Goat Inn’s cheezborgers, there were pleasant surprises, new inventions, and deep-fried flights of fancy. To name a few: plantain with goat, coconut ice, deep fried Chinese bread, pork-filled banana dumplings, mustard-fried catfish, baked crab cake nuggets.
After a few tastes and some samples and lots of eyeball gorging, I put 10 tickets towards a Rainbow Waffle Cone well-deserving of capital letters, a towering five flavors of sherbet that melted immediately all down my arm. Best self-birthday present of the day.
And then, right in the sweaty, sticky, heady midst of it all, while I was drifting through air pockets redolent of parmesan and garlic and ranch dressing, a beautiful sight caught my eye. Alongside jerk chicken and jollof with oxtails a sign showed bissap sorbet, a sweet ruby-colored West African dream frozen and served in a little plastic cup. This was from Iyanze, a West African restaurant in Uptown that I haven’t (yet) visited.
Jus de bissap, or hibiscus flower juice (though it’s prepared more like a tea), was my favorite revitalizing midday treat in Senegal. There are two colors of hibiscus flower, white and red, but the red is used to make juice that is a deep jewel-tone. The taste is similar to cranberry juice but not as tart, and I like it much better.
My friends’ family in Mbour had a plot across from their house where they grew bissap, and when I arrived it was time for the harvest. The papa and some help brought in tubs of spidery flower heads and everyone pitched in for hours a day to remove and reserve the edible outer part of the flower. Apart from a few handfuls used fresh for cooking, the hibiscus was then spread out on the roof of the house to dry in the sun. After a few days of this, we made pitchers of jus de bissap by simply steeping the flowers in hot water with sugar and fresh mint, then chilling the mixture.
When it’s hot and sandy and you’ve just eaten more than your fill of poulet Yassa, there’s nothing better. Jus de bissap can be found about everywhere in Senegal, sold in restaurants, on the street, in the markets, even at the tortoise reserve. The first time I tasted it counts among my most vibrant memories of the country.
As delicious as I remember jus de bissap being, I was delighted to see Iyanze’s sorbet at the Taste of Chicago. Making a frozen juice dessert seems like an elegant spin on the refreshing cold drink. And it was just as good as I remember.
The recipe below makes juice ready-to-drink, but you might also make a concentrated version with half the amount of water to mix with sparkling water, tonic, or ginger ale. I have also included Gourmet‘s recipe for bissap sorbet. I have seen dried hibiscus flower for sale in stores such as Trader Joe’s, and you could also try to find them in Mexican grocery stores. This juice is also popular in Mexican restaurants (though I have to say that there it’s often too watered down).
Jus de bissap (Hibiscus juice)
2-3 cups dried red hibiscus
2 liters (8.5 cups) water
1-2 cup sugar
a couple of sprigs of fresh mint
Heat the water in a saucepan or pot. When the water boils, add the hibiscus and turn off the heat. Let the flowers steep for ten to fifteen minutes.
Strain the liquid into a pitcher and add sugar and mint. Let cool completely and chill in the refrigerator, or serve with ice.
Garnish with mint leaves.
Bissap Sorbet (Hibiscus Tea Sorbet)
from Gourmet, October 2004
2 cups water
1 cup organic dried hibiscus flowers
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in hibiscus and remove from heat, then let steep 15 minutes.
Pour hibiscus tea through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl, pressing hard on and then discarding solids. Return tea to saucepan and bring to a boil with sugar and a pinch of salt, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
Transfer mixture to a metal bowl, then set bowl in a larger bowl of ice water and stir until cold, 10 to 15 minutes.
Stir in lemon and lime juices and freeze in ice cream maker. Transfer sorbet to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, at least 2 hours.
During this miserable 100+ degree summer heat wave, what better to refresh yourself with than a bite of chilled watermelon, together with lime, basil, and jalapeño . . . the flavors go wonderfully together and you’ll even be grateful to the unrelenting oven temperatures for providing such a perfect opportunity to enjoy this salad. The jalapeño pepper is a very interesting addition–I would have never thought myself of combining chili with watermelon, but it absolutely works. After all, I do always say that nothing beats the heat like some more heat.
On that note, don’t you dare take the seeds out of that jalapeño pepper–jalapeño is only mildly hot at the best of times, and here it is definitely taken down a notch by everything around it. I like the white sesame seeds because it disguises the jalapeño pepper seeds; however, black sesame seeds would look nice as well.
Serve this salad well-chilled, ideally giving it 20 minutes in the refrigerator before serving. Add in the basil, sesame seeds, and especially the salt just before serving–once the salt touches the watermelon your beautiful salad will rapidly disintegrate away into a soupy mess (much like I feel as soon as I step onto the subway in the morning) so take care to preserve the illusion as long as possible.
Watermelon Jalapeño Salad with Basil
serves 4, lightly adapted from Vegetarian Times
1/4 whole seedless watermelon, cut into ½-inch cubes
zest of one lime
juice of one lime
drizzle (1 Tbsp) olive oil or avocado oil
1 jalapeño pepper, sliced with seeds
4-5 leaves basil, cut into thin strips
1 tsp. white or black sesame seeds
1. Put watermelon cubes in a bowl. Whisk together lime juice, zest, oil and chopped jalapeño, pour over watermelon and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve (prepare 30 minutes or less prior to serving).
2. Just before serving, sprinkle with basil, sesame seeds and salt.
Fruit jellies make for wonderfully light and refreshing desserts on hot evenings–the Vietnamese know this well, with all their varieties of colorful chè desserts. My mother has a good catalog up her sleeve of fruit/jelly/ice combinations that are a bit simpler than chè, using more easily available ingredients. This simple coconut longan jelly, for one, never lasts more than two days at our house.
You can use either longan fruit or litchi for this jelly, as they are both white are light in flavor. Use fresh fruit for the most flavor, of course, but canned fruits are much more widely available in supermarkets and the juice can be added as well.
Coconut Jelly with Longan Fruit
1 package or 10g gelatin (sometimes found in Asian supermarkets as dried jelly powder)
3 ½ cans or 50 fluid oz. coconut juice with pulp
1/3 cup sugar
1 can longans, or 1 cup fresh fruit
Heat coconut juice in a saucepan until hot. Stir in gelatin slowly and continue to stir until the powder is dissolved.
Add sugar and bring to a boil, then remove from heat.
Pour into a 3 x 9 inch cake pan. Cool and place in the refrigerator until jelly is set, 2-3 hours.
Use one can of longans with juice. Cut each longan in half. Cut jelly in strips or cubes and mix with longans.
These are definitely my new best breakfast bar. At the very least it wins the prize for best name. They’re sweet but not too sweet, portably square and with a chewy moist texture. I find they satisfy my breakfast on-the-go quandary quite nicely. I am not what you call a “morning person” by any means, and most days I wake up with enough time to brush my hair once or twice and grab a granola bar. But granola bars are crumbly and dry and in the morning I am parched with thirst, so that is never a happy choice. Dry cereal/muesli presents the same problem, nor is it very good. And pastries–well, I’m sure we all wish we could eat pastries every morning without undesirable consequences. The worst part, of course, is that you get hungry again in a couple hours. Fruit would be a wiser choice for health and energy, but fruit is difficult to eat while seated on bike or in the crowd of public transportation, and afterwards you have to dispose of the peel/core. Besides, eating fruit in the morning gives me that terrible searing pain in the depths of my jaw sockets.
Dried fruit could be a solution, but somehow eating handfuls of dried fruit is a bit sickening and seems to get boring, fast. But when you take a variety of dried fruit and mix it up with almonds in the food processor–you get a breakfast bar/afternoon snack/traveling reserve that is substantial, satisfying, and really very tasty.
The recipe couldn’t be simpler: almonds, figs, dates, and blueberries, and vanilla. That’s it. You could use any combination of unsweetened dried fruit you like, but I recommend figs because they make for a nice, seedy texture. It is best to make these in the food processor, but if you don’t have a food processor you can make them in the blender (I did). If you use a blender you will probably have to separate the ingredients into two batches and knead them together a bit in the end to mix well.
2 cups raw almonds
1 cup dried figs
3/4 cup pitted dried dates
1/4 cup dried blueberries
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
In a food processor, process almonds until you have a consistency similar to flour, 30 to 45 seconds.
Add figs, dates, and blueberries, and process until mixture begins to clump together.
Add vanilla extract, and process for 10 seconds more or until well-combined.
Spoon mixture into a 8×8 pan (non-stick is best though the mixture should not be very sticky) and smooth with a rubber spatula. Cut into bars and serve.
2. The etymological origin of the word “avocado” is found in an Aztec (Nahuatl) word for “testicle.” Upon reflection, this makes sense.
3. It is speculated that avocados were once eaten and disseminated by the defunct giant ground sloth.
4. In some parts of the world, such as Brazil and southeast Asia, eating avocados in savory dishes is considered weird. In other parts of the world, such as Central and North America, avocado sweets are considered “different” or “exotic.” Clearly, the avocado swings both ways.
I do make a pretty mean guacamole, but it’s not summer, and I thought I’d introduce a new way to use avocados: as dessert. This is a beautifully simple pudding that is lighter and more interesting than regular chocolate. Making it in the blender will give an airy texture. The best part is, you can use damaged or brown avocados for this.
Avocado Chocolate Pudding
1 avocado, diced
1/8 cup raw agave nectar or palm sugar (or to taste)
1/4 cup cacao powder or cocoa powder
about 1/4 cup soy milk or coconut milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
Combine all ingredients in a blender, except the milk. Add the milk 1 Tbsp at a time until a creamy consistency is obtained.