Thursday, July 8, 2010

Watermelons for every season

If I had any idea how much fun it is to have an albeit tiny and modest garden, I think I would had started one in my college dorm room. Well, maybe not quite. But seriously, let's talk about lettuce. Let's talk about arugula, mache, endive and mixed baby greens. Let's talk about how one day I planted seeds and now I stand in front of these little leaves and think, "oh my, you're growing so big and green, but we've only just met."

But really, now is the time to spend more time with your favorite greens. Last month, my boss and I team taught a vegetarian grilling class. I did a simple Caesar salad with grilled romaine which started off the season with what I would like to say, well, expanded my green horizons.

And it's what I love about the entire large and flavorful family of greens, it's a template to use for seasonal veggies and yes, even the roasted sweet potato in the cold hours of February finds itself on a momentary summery bed. A respite from being blanketed by all the packed dirt and snow. Whereas now in the heat of July, everyone wins with watermelon, cantaloupe, grilled peaches or fresh baked salmon all floating over shades of seasonal summery green beds in a bowl.

I recently made this salad I want to share with you for a Raw Foods potluck. I was looking for something simple, obviously raw (no pork in any form found its way to that party) and something with a bit of a kick. I am by far more of a vinaigrette gal over heavy dressing, so I wanted something light but not shy in flavor. I like my salads bold in taste and above all, I like to think of salads as aesthetic pursuits--the closest form of still life painting I will probably ever get close to.

I must admit that I have made this salad a few times this summer season and it has been devoured before any photos were taken. The best version of this came with the gift of greens from my cousin, Eric Wittenbach and his lovely green-thumbed wife, Cameron Green (I am sure you can understand by her name it is just one of the many reasons I feel so close to her). We were visiting their amazing homestead in the Methow Valley, the banana belt on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains in Washington in early June. My father came out to visit us in Montana and we rallied to Washington to help in their garden, float down the mighty Methow and have some good ole family fun. The morning we left, Eric ran out and cut some of their early greens and we stored them in our cooler which we drove over the flat plains of eastern Washington, over two mountain passes in Idaho and finally they made it happily to our crisper in the valley of Missoula.

If you don't have any cousins who are amazing gardeners or little shoots of your own, please find someone else's cousin at a farmer's market selling greens, a local produce stand or barter some cherries in your back field for a bag or head. I'd like to think of greens as the sun's greatest currency. The bright reminders of rain or maybe just a really easy and great way to get some fiber in your diet.

And finally, one more long winded reason why I adore this signature salad: watercress. I mean, how can you not adore something that grows wild in Ireland along streams and creeks and with a name like watercress, it sounds more like a verb. Part water, part plant this green finds itself in salads all shy in appearance, but then in flavor, it fills your mouth with a tangy pepper pop. Seriously. Make this salad with or without mint, but please not without some watercress. And not without the watermelon. Maybe you could send me some photos of the salad you make and call it still life with summer greens. Or not. Just make it to beat the heat and lose the fear of your kitchen on days with rising temperatures. Or just enjoy cracking open a melon all green with a hidden heart of red and please support your local farmers (I know this sounds as annoying as some bumper sticker, but really, it's true). The farmer you get your greens from is someone's cousin, brother, dad or some kid you used to baby sit for while his mother weeded her garden.

Watermelon Salad with Watercress

2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled & minced
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime peel
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups watermelon, 1/2" pieces
1 bunch watercress, thick stems trimmed about 1 1/2 to 2 cups packed
2 cups mixed baby greens
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded & cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

1. Whisk vinegar, oil, ginger, lime peel, and garlic in large bowl to blend.
2. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Add watermelon, green onions and cucumber to bowl of vinegar and let marinate for about three to five minutes.
4. In a large salad bowl, add greens and fresh herbs. Toss greens and then add watermelon mixture and toss to coat.
5. If you are going to take this on a picnic or not eat it right away, then I would not add the watermelon until right before you serve it or you can place the greens on individual plates and top with watermelon mixture.

This recipe originally came from Bon Appetit in June 2002, but I have made a few adjustments.


  1. Oh Em! So much to love here. Mache is one of my many green loves... I was just thinking yesterday--as I was harvesting a bunch of salad greens with my three lovely nieces--how it would be lovely to spot a neighbor, perhaps Bert or Ernie from the apartment, enjoying some of my fresh-picked salad greens too. It would make me smile to see them bending over and snipping off a few leaves. No?

  2. Ash, I think, no I bet Bert and Ernie had a garden even in their apartment in New York...even if it was to feed greens to pigeons. What fun to harvest greens with little ladies. Cannot wait to cook with Wren.

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