Watermelon is a sweet, juicy addition to summery vegetable salads.
Its sweetness is a counterbalance to salty ingredients such as feta cheese, or acidic flavours such as pickled vegetables. The sponge-like texture absorbs dressing, so when you bite on the fruit in a mouthful of salad it explodes with flavours.
Today's dressing is flavoured with gin and dried juniper berries, providing a tart herbaceous contrast.
The salad is topped with vine sweet peppers, readily available at supermarkets, pickled and with chilli added to the pickling liquid. Pickle plenty to have on hand to use in antipasto platters.
My current summer standby is a platter of pickled peppers with thinly sliced pork salami and crumbled aged cheddar.
The vine sweet peppers are grown by large commercial vegetable growers, and, like supermarket tomatoes, even though they are produced all year round, they are much cheaper in summer.
WATERMELON, TOMATO AND AVOCADO SALAD WITH GIN AND JUNIPER DRESSING
This salad is best eaten when freshly made. It can accompany myriad barbecued meats, but I also love to eat it at lunchtime as a meal in itself. If purple basil is not available, simply add additional green basil.
600g (1/4 small) watermelon, skin removed, cut into 2cm dice and deseeded
370g (3-4 medium) tomatoes, tops and bases trimmed and cut into 16 thick slices
12-15 green basil leaves (roughly torn)
8-12 purple basil leaves (roughly torn)
60ml (4 Tbsp) Gin and Juniper Dressing
30ml (2 Tbsp) lemon juice
1 avocado (halved, stone and skin removed and each half cut into 4 lengthwise and 4 widthwise)
8 Pickled Vine Sweet Peppers
Extra basil sprigs to garnish
Place watermelon, tomatoes and torn basil leaves into a mixing bowl.
Drizzle over 3 Tbsp of Gin and Juniper Dressing. Using a rubber spatula, gently toss to combine. Gently tip salad onto a serving platter.
Drizzle lemon juice over avocado pieces and scatter avocado over salad. Drizzle a further 1 Tbsp of Gin and Juniper Dressing over avocado.
Arrange 8 Pickled Vine Sweet Peppers on top of the salad and garnish with basil sprigs.
Serve at room temperature.
GIN AND JUNIPER DRESSING
130ml ( 1/2 cup + 1 tsp) olive oil
30ml (2 Tbsp) gin
5ml (1 tsp) lemon juice
1 tsp juniper berries
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp flaky sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp finely sliced mint
Place olive oil, gin and lemon juice into a small bowl and whisk. Place juniper berries, brown sugar and salt into a mortar and, using the pestle, pound until finely ground. Add to oil mixture with black pepper and mint and whisk to combine. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, for up to 5 days. Re- whisk to serve.
PICKLED VINE SWEET PEPPERS
Fills a 1-litre jar
Vine sweet peppers are available in punnets at supermarkets. They can be eaten raw but also lend themselves to use in a variety of cooked preparations. I love them pickled. The number of peppers required and final yield will depend on the pepper size. For maximum flavour, Pickled Vine Sweet Peppers are best left for three weeks before eating. But often I am unable to wait.
760g-1kg (29-38, or 3-4 punnets) sweet vine peppers, washed
625ml (2 1/2 cups) white vinegar
1.25l (5 cups) water
500g (2 1/2 cups) sugar
20g (1 Tbsp + 2 tsp) table salt
2 tsp pickling spice
3 dried red chillies
Using a sharp, pointed knife, cut a cross at end tip of each pepper.
Place vinegar, water, sugar, salt, pickling spice and two of the dried chillies into a medium- sized saucepan. Place over a medium heat and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Increase heat, bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes.
Add peppers and place a cartouche (baking paper cut same diameter as saucepan) followed by a plate on top to keep peppers submerged.
Bring peppers back to the boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook for 5-7 minutes or until just tender.
Remove peppers from heat, remove cartouche and, using tongs, transfer peppers to a hot, sterilised jar. For maximum effect, place peppers standing upright and tightly pack into jar. Halfway through filling jar, add remaining dried chilli. Pour over pickling liquid to overflowing. Scrape a table knife down insides of jar to release air bubbles. Top up jar to overflowing once again and seal with a tight-fitting lid.
Place jar on a wooden board to cool for 24 hours and check jars have sealed correctly. Wash jar and store in a cool place away from direct sunlight.
- The Dominion Post
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