Friday, May 8, 2009

I’m Just Here for the Hot Melon Salad

We begin today with a riddle. Or a joke. Or a question. I’m not really sure:

Q: What sounds like something you’d do on a 4th date, but is really a quite lovely combination of cantaloupe, honeydew, onion, feta, and pine nuts?

A: Alton Brown’s Hot Melon Salad.

Oh, yes. The name “Hot Melon Salad” may look like a chapter title in a Jackie Collins novel, but in reality, it’s a strange, delicious combination of fruit and cheese from one of my favorite cookbooks/kitchen manuals: I’m Just Here for the Food.

We talked about it a bit last week, but Alton’s James Beard Award-winning tome is definitely worth expanding on a bit more. As a cookbook, IJHftF is pretty good. There are 100 or so recipes, and of the ones I’ve made, none have bitten the big one. One – Scrambled Eggs – even changed the way eggs are cooked in our house (now in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water). They’re heavenly, and a quantum leap over regular pan-heated eggs.

However, IJHftF isn’t meant to be just a recipe compilation. Instead, it’s a science textbook – a really cool science textbook that will make you feel like a huge nerd in the best possible way. With the help of Good Eats-style prose and mod graphics, Alton explains how water molecules work, the difference between convection and conduction, and of course, the intricacies of his beloved Maillard reaction. Best of all, it’s in a way I, who nearly failed high school physics, can understand. Seriously, you have to check it out.

Anyway, back to the Hot Melon Salad. (Hee.) This is in Alton’s … sauté chapter, I think … and after chopping, it comes together in about three minutes. You won’t find a faster side dish. (In fact, beware of cooking it for TOO long, or the melon itself will dissolve.)

Beyond that, it possesses a funky-yet-good flavor I’ve never quite experienced before, probably because I’m not in the habit of adding cheese to my hot melons. (“Adding cheese to my hot melons” - TELL ME THAT DOESN’T SOUND DIRTY, PEOPLE.) Tangy but sweet, with a soft consistency, I liked it, as did The Boyfriend. We’ll probably make it again when cantaloupe and honeydew are truly in season (and thus, much cheaper).

In conclusion: have a great weekend, check the book, and … hee … try some … *giggle* … Hot Melon Salad. It’ll whet your appetite, possibly in more ways than one. (HEEEE.)

Hot Melon Salad
Serves 4
From I’m Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown

1-1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium red onion, sliced Lyonnaise-style (crescent moons)
2 cups diced assorted melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, etc.)
1 tablespoon basil, chiffonaded
Splash of red wine vinegar
Black pepper
1-1/2 ounces reduced fat crumbled feta
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts

1) Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high or high heat. Once it's hot, add oil. Quickly add onion. Cook 30 to 60 seconds, or until you can smell it. Add melon. Cook 2 minutes, or until it's starting to get a little soft. Add basil, vinegar, and pepper. Cook 30 to 60 seconds, stirring frequently. According to Alton, "If the melon is still too hard, cover and let steam briefly."

2) Kill heat and get pan off the burner. Quickly add cheese. Toss a little, but not so much that it's all melted. Serve with pine nuts on top.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
121 calories, 7.9 g fat, $1.00

1-1/2 tablespoon olive oil: 179 calories, 20.2 g fat, $0.18
1 medium red onion: 46 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.35
2 cups diced assorted melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, etc.): 117 calories, 0.5 g fat, $1.32
1 tablespoon basil: 1 calorie, 0 g fat, $0.30
Splash of red wine vinegar: negligible calories and fat, $0.08
Black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.01
1-1/2 ounces reduced fat crumbled feta: 88 calories, 5.6 g fat, $1.15
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts: 53 calories, 5 g fat, $0.62
TOTAL: 484 calories, 31.4 g fat, $4.01
PER SERVING (TOTAL/4): 121 calories, 7.9 g fat, $1.00


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