Sunday, June 08, 2008

Thai Cantaloupe Salad from How to Eat Supper

We finally had a chance to do some cooking around here this weekend. Thank goodness, because I am really anxious to write about a new cookbook. I’ve reading through it like a novel because I don’t want to miss any of the insights, humor or pearls of wisdom included on practically every page. The book is The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift.

I will preface this by explaining that I’m a huge of fan The Splendid Table, the weekly show on public radio hosted by Kasper and produced by Swift. I download the podcast every week to be entertained and learn something new about the world of food. So, I expected a book connected with the show to be well done. Furthermore, Lynne Rossetto Kasper is an award-winning cookbook author and food historian who wrote the book on Italian food of the Emilia-Romagna region.

But still, I was skeptical. I already know my way around the kitchen, so I like cookbooks that demystify a new cuisine or offer something new or unique. This book sounds like its goal is to bring infrequent or inexperienced cooks into the kitchen more often. That is in fact one of its aims—there is a short but informative section on outfitting your kitchen with equipment, and the recipes are intended for weeknight meals when time and patience might be in short supply. And as Kasper says in her introduction,
“the recipes in this book are hand-holders, built on the idea that if you’ve never seen the dish before, you need to know the details of how to cook it.”
Crazy idea, right, but it just might work. The recipes are unfailingly clear, suggesting substitutions, specifying prep and cook times and telling you how long the food will keep and how to reheat it. But this is not “how to eat supper for dummies.” Kasper and Swift may include a recipe for “dumbed-down rice” (just boil it like pasta so you don’t have to worry about a burnt layer at the bottom of the pan), but the flavors, philosophy and finished dishes are anything but dumbed-down.

Chapters include Salad, Soups, Eggs and Small Plates, Vegetable Main Events, Pasta, Main Dishes, Sides and Sweets. The authors’ love of Indian, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian flavors influences some dishes, like the Thai Cantaloupe Salad I made this weekend. I chose to make it because it reminded me of the green mango with hot ground chiles, salt and sugar sold as a street snack in Thailand. Plus, cantaloupes (which I love) are in season, and it was incredibly easy, yet something I haven’t seen before. To paraphrase Mike's comment, it was simple enough to show off the individual flavors while giving you something new and really tasty.

Other recipes that caught my eye were Curried Cauliflower Cream Soup; Green Apple, Cheese, and Chard Oven Omelet; Hollow Pasta with Greek Cinnamon-Tomato Sauce; North Shore Shrimp Scampi; and Almond-Turmeric Potatoes (as seen in the intriguing cover photo).

But more than just recipes to look forward to, this cookbook is outright foodie entertainment. Alongside the informative introductions, variations and tips that come with the recipes are funny or thought-provoking quotations, interesting vignettes (see “Sally’s New Year’s Resolution), opinionated commentaries (see “How to Orchestrate Summer Tomatoes”), and “Building the Library” sidebars recommending a diverse bunch of cookbooks the authors deem excellent.

After spending time with this book, I could see that “how to eat supper” is not just a set of instructions but an abundantly realistic philosophy about nourishing yourself. On nights when you want to cook a main course and two sides, this book will help you do that. It also invites you to make supper out of the less than obvious. Alongside a recipe for a no-cook, dead simple Belgian Beer Bar Tartine is a commentary on how to make a meal around a slice of bread. Sounds like an incredible supper to me.

Thai Cantaloupe Salad with Chile
Adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift

I forgot to buy basil, so I used cilantro leaves instead with good results. The original recipe recommends just a couple drops of fish sauce, but I found a liberal sprinkling of this pungent sauce suited our tastes.

Serves 8

1 large ripe, fragrant cantaloupe, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 diced jalapeno or (for more heat) Thai red chile, seeded or not
1/3 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon fish sauce, or to taste
Generous pinch sugar
Course salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large serving bowl, gently combine all the ingredients. Taste and add more lime juice, fish sauce, sugar or seasoning to taste. You can serve this with long bamboo skewers so people can spear chunks of cantaloupe from the bowl.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Clarkson Potter.


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

There's a great Thai melon salad in, of all books, Julia Child's Cooking with Master Chefs from her TV series. It uses a few types of watermelon, and a similar dressing that also has peanuts. It sounds odd, but it is so delicious.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Oh, I just adore these types of savory fruit salads. This would be fabulous with watermelon or even peaches too. Mmmm....

Cheryl from 5 Second Rule said...

It's super hot here today and that cantaloupe salad just looks so refreshing.

I'm also ashamed to admit that I'm an avid NPR listener but have never listened to The Splendid Table. It's just never on when I'm listening, so I'm thrilled to know I can download the podcast. Thanks!

Julie said...

Lydia: That figures--leave it to Julia.
Susan: You're right--I do a Greek-ish one with watermelon and feta that I love.
Cheryl: I love having the podcasts to listen to when I go on long walks around the neighborhood. Makes exercising kind of a treat.

Alanna @ Kitchen Parade said...

Add me to the huge fans of this salad -- I've been groaning over it for a week now and just posted it too!

Auntie Hattie said...

Took this salad to a potluck tonight, it was a smash hit!