Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Melon salad with jalapeno-pickled pineapple

December 6, 2017

The Smith & Daughters Cookbook describes this fruit salad as a misunderstood menu item, met with indifference by most and then obsessed over by a rare few. I'm one of the weirdos who went wild for it in the restaurant, and it's become my most-made dish from the cookbook.

While the bulk of the salad is three kinds of mild-mannered melon, it's the sour, spicy jalapeno-pickled pineapple that bucks against all preconceptions. It's the counterbalance to those cloying rock- and honeydew melons I always needed but never knew how to ask for. They're fruits I've never previously sought out at the shops; now I've bought them five times in the past year!

Its creators explain that this salad is intended to sit right by the main meal, but that's not quite how I prefer it. I think of it more as a palate cleanser. I thought myself a genius when I served it alongside a corn chip tasting last autumn, and there are probably other rich, crunchy appetisers it would pair gloriously with. Earlier this month I took it to a friend's taco night and it was a bright, light end to the meal, when most people had already piled up one or two more tortillas than they really needed. It's not a conventional dessert, but it's pretty adept at replacing it mid-summer.

I have tinkered a little, but not a lot, with the recipe. I skip the garlic in the pickle brine, I use a dried bay leaf instead of a fresh one, and I use or omit the coriander stems depending on whether I already have them. I cut the fruit into whatever shape I feel like, and I find that the pineapple cores are completely edible once pickled.

This fruit salad has one last peculiarity you'd best prepare for - it doesn't mellow, but only gets more fiery with time!

Melon salad with jalapeno-pickled pineapple
(slightly adapted from Shannon Martinez & Mo Wyse's Smith & Daughters Cookbook)

1/2 pineapple
2 jalapenos
1/2 honeydew melon
1/4 watermelon
1/2 rockmelon
handful of mint leaves

pickle brine
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup caster sugar
juice and zest of 1 orange
juice and zest of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
small handful coriander stems (optional)
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns

Prepare the pickles 3-24 hours ahead of serving. Place all of the brine ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring them to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the brine until the sugar is completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and allow the flavours to infuse at room temperature for 15 minutes. During that time, slice the skin from the pineapple, slice the flesh into thin half-rounds and then into triangular segments. Slice the jalapenos into thin rings.

Place the pineapple and jalapeno pieces into a bowl or large jar, and pour over the brine. Cover and let it all pickle for up to 24 hours (I store it in the fridge, although the original recipe doesn't mention this).

When it's time to serve, remove the rinds and seeds from the melons and arrange them on a platter or place them in a large bowl. Scoop the pineapple and jalapeno pieces out of the brine and add them to the fruit salad; sprinkle over a little salt, add the mint leaves and a little of the brine. If you're serving everything in a bowl, fold everything together gently.

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