watermelon raita

Yesterday, a friend reminded me that every once in a while, creativity pays off. In a world where ideas are cheap but increasingly void of meaning, I pounced on the opportunity to win some cash for an hour spent experimenting with a large melon. Let me explain.

It happened in the blink of an eye. While hanging out after competing in a triathlon together, my friend informed me that there was money to be made in the cheese aisle. She works at an advertising company, and one of her clients is running a contest: Buy cheese. Invent salad. Win cash. As we stood there in our sweaty post-tri glow (waiting to mount the podium for our respective age group awards, I must add),  she convinced me to try my hand at corporately-sponsored food alchemy.

When it comes to a $500 Wegman’s gift certificate, I have no shame. Président cheese, you are my master.

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That same friend had some pre-race advice too:  Never try anything new on race day. She was talking about the wet suit I’d never tested out in the water (which, incidentally, transformed me into a hyperventalating slug). It turns out I’m familiar with this advice when it applies to food: I seldom test a new invention on guests.

Conveniently, I had a birthday potluck to attend tonight. If the salad bombed, someone else would eat it. (It’s not that I don’t love people, but the general public is as good a candidate for a edible pawn-off as any.)

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As with any invention, this salad is an amalgam of things that came before: My first watermelon salad at Dish last week in Colorado being one of them. (If you’re ever in the Vail Valley, do yourself a favor and eat there.) Dotted with pumpkin seeds, watercress, and goat cheese, it endeared me a little more to my least favorite melon.

I wanted to recreate the salad, but add enough new elements to make it truly mine. I got to thinking about great salads: cool Indian raita and my ultimate favorite Middle-East-inspired one. When it came to watermelon salad, I knew I couldn’t break the rules — I didn’t know them. A quick trip to Wegmans and I was ready to paint my melon-pink canvas with mint, cucumber, dates, and yogurt.

The result? A salad I was happy to share around a table and around the Web. And here is where you come in: vote for my salad at www.presidentsaladcontest.com before August 23rd. Your click will help fuel foodie creativity the world over. Or at least in one little second-storey apartment.

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grown-up pizza pops

Aside from last night’s French rendezvous, this past week’s cuisine has transported us to the Mediterranean twice. Who needs a tropical holiday?

Saturday I whipped up some pizza dough from my Moosewood cookbook. I divided it into two, saving half for a future night of inspiration. Loosely following a pizza recipe from Cooking Light, we topped it with pesto, red onions, artichokes, prosciutto, mozzarella and feta cheese, for a light and crispy feast.

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But what to do with the other half of the dough? I’d always wanted to try calzones, those little Italian inspirations for the pizza pop (yet having so underrepresented it). I looked over a few fancy recipes online, but decided to go with what we had kicking around.

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They turned out perfectly crisp on the outside and nice and chewy inside, and when broken open, let out a burst of earthy tangy steam. The sheep’s milk feta we bought from our favourite Lebanese grocery importer Samir’s complimented the almost nutty hints from the steamed spinach. I concluded that I like cooked spinach better than fresh. So sue me.

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