A lot of the so-called cooking I do in the summer is just assembling. Slice any produce on hand, add something creamy or salty for texture and flavor, and dress it all up with olive oil and a handful of herbs. Total time spent: 20 minutes. Receiving pleasure: worth an entire evening. Repeat for the entire month of August.
For warm weather meals like this, the classics never fail. Tomatoes with mozzarella, basil, maybe a few peaches; cucumbers with red onions, olives or capers; melon with feta and a few leaves of mint.
When the heat gets especially oppressive, my family likes to eat one of these light salads for dinner and call it an evening. Add a little bread to soak up the juices and pair it with a spritz or cold white wine to round out the meal.
But there are nights when something more substantial is needed – maybe people are passing by, or the temperature has dropped enough to restore our appetites.
My current strategy for turning almost any summer salad into a hearty meal is to quickly throw grilled or broiled shrimp on top. This works with tomatoes and mozzarella, and it works with cucumbers and onions. But it’s especially delicious with cantaloupe and feta in this quick weeknight recipe.
When I cook shrimp, those are often the sweetest, softest elements on the plate, spiced up by garlic and lemon. But here, next to the melon, they taste more savory, their briny juiciness and some char from the grill contrasting with the juicy cubes of melon (any kind will do: watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew or any combination for the more colorful salad).
Chunks of creamy, tart feta enliven the whole. Here’s a tip for using feta. Taste it right out of the package; if it’s too salty and too intense, soak it in some fresh water for an hour or two. This really makes it.
Not many other ingredients here, just slivers of chili for the heat, the grated zest and juice of a few floral-scented limes for the acidity and some roasted cilantro for the crunch. It’s a simple yet powerful blend.
And if it doesn’t seem possible to use heat on anything, you can substitute precooked shrimp here by marinating them in the chili-lime mixture for half an hour or so. It is a composed summer dinner, in a very luxurious way.
GRILLED SHRIMP SALAD WITH MELON AND FETAI
Yield: 4 servings
Total time: 30 minutes
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 2 limes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 Fresno chili, serrano or other fresh chili pepper, finely chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound cleaned extra large shrimp
- 1 pound diced cantaloupe (about 4 cups, any variety or combination)
- 1 small cucumber, preferably Persian or kirby, thinly sliced
- 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion or shallot
- 1/3 cup crumbled feta
- 1/2 cup chopped soft herbs, such as mint, basil, or cilantro, plus more for garnish
1. Light a charcoal or gas grill or heat the grill. Make the fire as hot as it can get, and if you’re using a grill, place the rack close to the heat source.
2. While the grill heats up, lightly crush the coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle, or with the side of a knife on a cutting board. (Caution: They may roll around.) Place in a small dry skillet over medium heat and toast, shaking the pan once or twice until fragrant, 1 to 3 minutes. Pour into a small bowl.
3. Using a Microplane or other grater, grate the zest of both limes directly into the bowl with coriander. Grate in the garlic (no need to wash the grater in between), then add the chilli and a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Beat in oil.
4. Pat the shrimp dry, place in a medium bowl and season with a pinch of salt and black pepper. Stir in the coriander mixture and pour half over the shrimp, reserving the rest for the salad. Toss shrimp to coat and set aside while you prepare the other ingredients.
5. Cut the grated limes in half, squeeze out 2 tablespoons of juice and whisk into the coriander mixture to make a dressing. Cut the remaining lime into wedges.
6. Arrange shrimp in a grill basket or on skewers (or simply on a baking sheet if broiling), and grill or broil the shrimp until well browned on one side, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and cook until just opaque and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Place the shrimp on a plate and squeeze over a wedge of lime.
7. In a large bowl, combine melon, cucumber, onion, feta and spices. Add the coriander dressing and toss together. Taste and add more salt or lime juice to taste. Top melon salad with grilled shrimp and more herbs, if you like.