One benefit of not being a great cooker is that if you’re lucky, you tend to gravitate toward those who shine in the kitchen. I have many friends who keep me motivated with their meal repertoires – I get texts with pictures of last night’s dinner, this morning’s smoothie, a bowl of homemade ice cream, and even a morning coffee. I love the pictures, and while sometimes it spurs me to pull out a cutting board and grab my favorite knives, other times I find myself lying on my bed, spoon deep into a mug filled with ben & jerry’s, scrolling through the pictures in admiration.
The biggest question I have is how do my friends figure out what to make?
Question #2? Why am I, one who collects cookbooks, so challenged when it comes to thinking about what to serve for dinner?
I found myself at Idylwilde Farm a month ago or so, aimlessly hunting & gathering stuff I saw in other people’s carriages, when I happened to run into one of my best friends who is an amazing cook. After whistling a cat call or two at her, I finally got her attention. I peered in her cart, asked her what she was making, and was so intrigued by her dinner plan that I decided right then I was going to make the same thing for my family. Her dinner was a refreshing salad made of watermelon, feta, herbs, olives & grilled shrimp from the amazing cookbook, Raising the Salad Bar, by Catherine Walthers.
I will never forget the first time I had watermelon in a salad. I was visiting my friend in Vermont (yes, she is also an amazing cook) during the summer, and her dinner consisted of grilled steak, grilled bread with halloumi cheese, and a refreshing watermelon salad. I heaped everything onto my plate, but only took a tiny amount of the watermelon salad. For some reason, I was hesitant to go there. I love watermelon as is, cut into wedges or cubed, not mixed with lettuce or herbs. I was surprised how much I loved the salad, and while I’m sure I drove home to Massachusetts with grand plans of what I was going to make for family, the salad quickly became a distant memory until I ran into my friend at Idylwilde.
Needless-to-say, I was hesitant once again about making this salad for dinner. Would the kids eat it? Would the olives over-power the watermelon? Would the watermelon be too sweet? I quickly decided that I didn’t care, loaded up my cart, and went home to get to work.
The salad was a huge hit, and has quickly become a staple dinner in my house. The best part about it is that I can morph the salad to accommodate whatever veggies I happen to have available in my fridge. Last week, I made it and added fresh, uncooked corn and raw peas, both which added a delightful crunch. The chopping didn’t take too long, nor did the lemon vinaigrette.
I actually have some tips for anyone who is interested in making this salad at home:
- Make extra salad & store the components of the salad in separate containers. The salad will last for 2-3 days if the ingredients (especially the watermelon) are stored separately. I mixed together all of the veggies and herb and stored that in one container, and then put the other ‘fixings’ in separate containers. The other bonus of storing the ingredients separately is that everyone can add what they want to the salad. If someone doesn’t like olives, they don’t have to add them to their plate.
- Double the salad dressing recipe – it’s that good & you’ll want to have some extra on-hand for other dinners.
- Feta – there are a lot of different fetas available on the market these days. If possible, look for Valbreso French Feta. It’s outstanding and is different from other fetas…less salty, more creamy.
Recipe, adapted from Catherine Walther’s Grilled Shrimp Salad
1 1/2 pounds shrimp, peeled & de-veined, tails left on (you can also you cooked, frozen shrimp if you don’t have much time)
Cherry tomatoes, halved
Cucumbers, sliced & cut into chunks
Celery, small dice
Fresh corn, uncooked 2-3 ears cut off the cob
Fresh peas – as many as you have time to shell
Radish, cut into small dice – I like the bite of radish. You don’t need to add too much, but a little adds a nice dimension to the salad.
Watermelon, cut into small cubes
Kalamata olives, cut in half
1 Tbs fresh dill
2 Tbs fresh mint, chopped
1/2 pound Valbreso feta Cheese
1 cup arugula, spinach, romaine…greens of some sort.
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp fresh garlic, crushed
6 Tbs olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Make the vinaigrette: Whisk everything together in a small bowl, adjust salt & pepper as necessary, set aside
Make the salad: Ok, so when I make salads, I rarely measure ingredients, which is why I didn’t list quantities in the recipe. I always make too much, a genetic flaw. Chop up whatever you need and add the veggies/fixings that you and your family like. Anything goes, in my book.
Grill the shrimp: Skewer the shrimp, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper and grill over medium heat for 2-3 minutes each side or until the shrimp turns pink.
The rest is easy. Just toss & serve.
I hope you enjoy this as much as I do, and many many thanks to the talented Catherine Walthers for her incredible cook books & recipes!!!