A lot of the so-called cooking I do in the summer is just assembling. Cut up the produce at 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).
Pieces 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 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 put together summer dinner, in a very luxurious way.
Recipe: Grilled Shrimp Salad With Melon And Feta