Wednesday, July 11, 2012
My dad once told me about how he and one of his brothers would eat melons in the fields when they were working – or supposed to be working - on their farm in West Texas when they were teenagers. I’ve never eaten them quite that fresh, but melons of all kinds are a hot commodity around here. We go through a small watermelon almost every day this time of year, and quite a few cantaloupes too. Sometimes the table conversation trends toward who’ll get the last slice; whose slice is bigger/thicker/juicier. (On worse days, talking devolves to grabbing and shouting.)
It was the mention of melon that compelled me to tear the recipe out of a magazine over a decade ago that has become my best summer salad.
Chicken Salad with Melon, Feta and Greens
Adapted from a recipe published in Food & Wine August 2000 by Joyce Goldstein
Be sure to use the best possible ingredients - a good feta, a nice olive oil. If the melon doesn't evoke summer in smell and taste, fuggedaboutit.
Serve with a loaf of crusty bread.
1/2 cup walnut halves
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint, plus 1/3 cup small mint leaves
2/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar1/2 teaspoon sugar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (6 to 8 ounces each), pounded 1/2 inch thick
1 ripe cantaloupe (2 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
3/4 pound feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
3 bunches (about 18 ounces) watercress or other salad greens
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden and fragrant.
In a small saucepan, combine the lemon juice with the chopped mint. Cook over high heat just until the mint is wilted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let it steep for 10 minutes. Strain the lemon juice into a small bowl and discard the mint. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar and sugar into the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a large skillet. Season the pounded chicken breasts with salt and pepper, add to the skillet – 2 at a time - and cook over medium heat until golden and just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board. Add the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil to the skillet, and cook the remaining chicken. Thinly slice the cooked chicken across the grain.
Put the greens in a large bowl, add the remaining mint leaves and toss with some of the vinaigrette, to taste. Divide the salad greens between 6 plates. Arrange the melon, chicken, walnuts and feta on top of the greens, and drizzle with a bit more vinaigrette. Serve immediately.
Yield: 6 servings
Note: Any leftover dressing will keep, covered and chilled, for up to a week.