A summer salad: Melons berries and cucumbers

blackberries on the vineThis has become one of the tastes of summer for us here in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Credit where credit’s due, we got the idea from a superb restaurant that opened up two or three years ago, Castor in Corvallis.  Now you can find recipes for any number of variations in most any website or food magazine, this time of year. It’s a perfect blend of local, seasonal tastes.

Start with melons, at least two different types. It’s best if one is watermelon, but not a dealbreaker of you can’t find any ripe ones this week. Plus at least one other. Our local favorites are the Tuscan style cantaloupe or the Galia. They grow both a lot around here, and you can get really good ones just about anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. I wish (oh, how I wish) that I could use the superb little lemondrop melon, which is a tart, citric Galia hybrid. I think that tartness would be a good addition to this salad, but alas, my stomach lining really dislikes them for some reason.

Then you’ll need some cucumber. Pretty much any kind will do, as long as it’s fresh and crunchy and a little bit sweet. If it’s a big English type you might want to remove the seeds. We favor the long, slender Asian types or the short, slendar Armenians, but even lemon cukes would be fine; if the skin’s too tough, peel them.

Cut up the melons and cukes into bitesize chunks. You can use a baller on the melons, but it’s not necessary.

Next come the berries. The absolute best are blackberries, and fortunately, they grow rampant here in the Northwest. Just put on a longsleeve shirt and go pick a couple of cups, or, y’know, get some at the farmer’s market and save yourself a couple of Band-aids. Blueberries would also be fine, or any of the variations on blackberries: Marion, logan, etc. Raspberries if they’re a little bit tart, but for my taste they’re not juicy enough to work in this salad.

OK, those are your basics. The proportions are up to you. I like to have the melons and cucumbers in roughly equal proportion, and just about the same for the berries.

Now you need some tangy cheese. Feta works fine, as does a good plain goat cheese. Trader Joe’s sells goat cheese crumbles in half-pint containers that are really handy, but whatever you can lay your hands on as long as it’s not herbed with something that would clash. Even a nice cotija would be good in this, and again we’re lucky to have a couple of  local queserias that make and sell their own.

Then some thinly sliced red or other sweet onion, to give it a little sharpness. Sprinkle it with some chiffonade of leafy, fresh herbs. We go with basil, and some mint if we have some on hand. And top it off with a mild vinaigrette. The original used a fairly plain white balsamic vinaigrette, but feel free to experiment. Dress it lightly and put a cruet on the table so you can add more if you want, but this one doesn’t need much.

That’s the key to this kind of fruit salad, just have fun with it. Change up the melons or the berries, use a different kind of cheese, use more or less of this or that. And enjoy the tastes of this glorious season.

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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