This month, Tasting Table celebrates all things salad. Keep your cool with us.
Today is a good day for the fruit salad. I wanted this dish (see the recipe) to be exactly that, a real salad, not an afterthought of strawberries and blueberries bobbing around in a bowl. I wanted it to impress fruit salad cynics at every picnic, luncheon and dinner party, with them genuinely enjoying each bite. So basically, I wanted it to be nothing like the fruit salads I slurped down in grade school.
When I was a kid, I happily piled globs of fluffy marshmallow and whip cream ambrosia onto my potluck dinner paper plate, filling my little heart with warmth—and my stomach with pure sugar. And let's not forget the canned fruit cocktail. Scooped into a square of my school lunch tray, this sad assortment of skinless grapes, saggy peaches and, if I were lucky, a half-broken maraschino cherry, bathed lifelessly in a pool of high-fructose corn syrup. Both have sentimental value, sure, but neither of these fruit salads qualifies as real food.
For my recipe, I followed two important rules: I used only fresh fruit, and it couldn't taste boring. My first version was deemed bland by my fellow editors, and they were absolutely right. But my fruit was ripe! Where did I go wrong?
To fix it, I drew inspiration from the Mexican street carts that roam Manhattan selling Ziploc bags of chile-decked and lime juice-doused mango slices. I also visited Northern Thai pop-up Chiang Mai in Red Hook, Brooklyn, where chef Kanlaya Supachana serves sweet green mango pounded with palm sugar, garlic, dry chile and pickled fish. Lesson learned: Salt, spice, acid and a bit of sugar do wonders to boost fruit and give it a savory depth. No one ever said fruit salad had to be sweet.
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The second attempt was anchored by succulent August watermelon, and I took full advantage of the entire fruit, pickling the rinds for a salty tang. In order to entice the "I don't eat sweet foods" crowd (yawn), I included a beloved savory fruit that's often labeled a vegetable: the avocado. I tossed it all with a shot of agave and spiked it with crushed spicy Aleppo pepper and citrusy sumac. I finished it off with crunchy macadamia nuts and toasted coconut flakes for a vibrant, tropical watermelon fruit salad. (I served it in a watermelon carved into a shark's head, which of course is optional.) No longer a forgettable side, this is truly the star of the dinner table.
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