Charentais Melon and Cucumber Salad
serves 4-6, depending on serving size | prep time 20 minutes
Katy’s salad balances the melon’s musky sweetness with pickled red onions, mellowed with cucumbers and celery heart. Chopped, roasted almonds play against the melon’s soft texture. Togarashi shichimi — a Japanese mixture of seven spices — adds a touch of heat, which is in turn softened with cool, herbal shiso.
1 ripe, medium-sized Charentais melon (2–3 pounds)
1 pound small cucumbers (Diva or English varieties work well)
1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar pinch of fine sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon Spanish or other light olive oil
1/4 teaspoon togarashi shichimi (a Japanese spice mixture available at most international markets)
1/4 cup pickled red onion, drained (see recipe below)
4 leaves red shiso, cut in half and then in chiffonade
All of the tender yellow leaves on the inside of a bunch of celery
1/4 cup whole natural almonds, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
Pickled red onions
1 medium red onion, peeled, trimmed and sliced thinly (1/8-inch lengthwise)
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1 1/8 cups water
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon togarashi shichimi
1 very small clove garlic, peeled and crushed
Put the sliced onion into a stainless steel or otherwise heat-safe, bowl. Combine all of the other ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Pour over the onion slices, stir, and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate overnight.
Peel the melon: Cut off just enough of the top and bottom so that it will stand securely on your cutting board, and, using a sharp knife, cut off just the skin from top to bottom in long strips until all the green under the skin has been peeled off. Cut the peeled melon in half and scoop out the seeds. Place cut side down on your cutting board and slice as thinly as you can while making whole slices.
Trim the ends of the cucumbers, and slice them lengthwise as thinly as you can with a knife or mandoline. Place the cucumber slices in a medium mixing bowl with the rice wine vinegar, a generous pinch of fine sea salt, the olive oil, togarashi, 1/2 teaspoon of the pickling liquid from the onions, and the shiso. Stir to combine, and let it sit for a minute and macerate. Taste for seasoning (it should be bright and tart and a little spicy, but you should still taste the cucumbers). Adjust with vinegar or salt to taste.
Add the pickled red onions and the melon slices, and toss to combine. Taste again, and adjust salt and acidity to your liking. Drain off any excess liquid. Divide between four or six plates. Then put five or six little celery leaves on each salad, and sprinkle with one tea- spoon or so of the toasted chopped almonds. Serve immediately.