char-grilled watermelon salad with mint and goats cheese

plate4It’s been a slow couple of months at the Mess. Slow and weary; mostly due to the insufferably hot Summer weather. Over the past two months I’ve been reluctant to even move, never mind turn on the oven. Aaron and I have spent a majority of nights sleeping on the cool kitchen floor underneath our single air conditioning unit (don’t get too excited, it hardly copes with humidity. Cool, wet towels have become my new best friend).

Meals? Well, they’ve largely consisted of raw vegetables, hummus, sourdough and cultured butter, chunks of good cheddar and the occasional barbecue chicken from Red Rooster. Oh, and homemade quinoa tofu sushi. That’s about as interesting as it gets. melonNot that I’m complaining. In fact, I’ve quite enjoyed these nights of light, simple food. My sole problem has been poor blogability, if that’s even a word. Nothing’s really stood out as beautiful enough to throw into the blogosphere.

Add that to the absence of my beloved laptop (which has officially bitten the dust) and the lack of Western Australian daylight savings and… well, you’re left with a dearth of recent blog content. I’m dreadfully sorry. vase But back to today’s post and the beauty of char-grilled watermelon. This, my friends, is the kind of food that makes my weary, sweat-soaked Summer heart sing.

Quickly tossing watermelon onto a hot grill plate creates a beautiful smoky exterior that contrasts perfectly against the sweet, juicy flesh. Add some fresh mint, creamy chevre, crunchy pistachios and piquant lemon and you’ve got a salad fit for warm weather entertaining. plate1 Or for eating by yourself, with sweet grilled chicken and a glass of chilled white wine.

Happy February, friends. plate3 Char-grilled Watermelon Salad

Serves 2

  • 4 one-inch-thick slices of seedless watermelon, rind removed
  • 2 spring onions, washed and thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • 1 sprig mint, washed and finely chopped
  • 2 hunks of good-quality goats cheese, preferably French chèvre (approx 20g per person)
  • 1 tsp lemon rind
  • 1 tbsp toasted, shelled pistachio nuts, crushed
  • light olive oil or coconut oil, to cook

Lemon Dressing:

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (juice from half an average lemon)
  • a good pinch of brown or coconut sugar (to taste)
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Heat a char-grill pan or barbecue plate to high heat (or until it starts smoking).

Rub each side of the cut watermelon with olive or coconut oil, then immediately transfer onto the hot pan or rack. Cook for 2 minutes on each side or until grill marks appear. Transfer two slices onto each plate.

Combine all of the dressing ingredients into a small screw top jar. Shake, then taste. Adjust amounts of acid or sweetness to your liking (ensure the dressing is a little acidic as you’ll require the acid as a contrast to the sweet watermelon.

dressingingred dressing Top the watermelon slices on each plate with some crumbled goats cheese, mint, spring onions and finely grated lemon rind. Drizzle with a bit of the lemon dressing and sprinkle with crunchy pistachio nuts.

Serve alongside some grilled white fish or chicken for a complete meal. Or as a Vegetarian option, add some sourdough and cultured butter for a pretty delicious lunch. plate2

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roasted beet salad with walnuts and chèvre

beetknife

It’s not exactly a secret, but… well, I’m a little bit in love with cheese. Actually, make that a lot. Give me a glass of red, some crackers and some cheese on a balmy evening and I’ll be in my version of dairy heaven. Well, except if the cheese of choice is Kraft Singles, as that’s not really cheese at all (ah, I’ll rant about this topic another day). In terms of recipe adaptability, my new favourite cheese is the deliciously creamy chèvre. It’s characteristically piquant flavour is adaptable enough to add to a range of dishes, from stuffed mushrooms, crepes and salads to creamy, semi-sweet desserts.

What, might you ask, is chèvre? Well, although it sounds fancy, it’s just the French name for soft, pressed curd cheese that’s been made with goat’s milk. It’s creamy, white and full of medium-chain fatty acids such as caproic, caprylic and capric acid, all of which contribute to a slightly tart flavour. I love it, and regularly consume it in a very simple fashion: spread thickly onto toasted sourdough, with fresh Italian parsley and a drizzle of lemon oil. It’s also fabulous in any recipe that calls for feta cheese, but make sure that you buy a medium-firm variety or you’ll end up with milky goat goo (don’t you love that word?) throughout your salad.

Image credit: Leela at 'She Simmers'. Click for a recipe on how to make your own homemade chèvre

Image credit: Leela at ‘She Simmers’. Click for a recipe on how to make your own homemade chèvre.

For those of you who are deterred by the fact that chèvre comes from a goat rather than a cow, let me explain a few benefits:

  • Goat milk typically contains less lactose than cow’s milk, which makes it favourable for people who suffer from lactose intolerance.
  • It’s protein composition is more similar to human milk than cow’s milk, so it’s often the milk of choice for the elderly, or children who are intolerant of certain proteins or sugars in traditional dairy milk
  • On average, goat cheese tends to contain 20% less calories and fat than cow’s milk cheese. It also contains shorter fat molecules that are easier to digest into ready-to-use energy.
  • It’s also lower in saturated fat, salt and cholesterol. In an average comparison of 1-0z. of cheddar cheese to 1-oz. goat’s cheese, cheddar comes up at 9g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 170mg sodium and 25mg cholesterol. Goat’s cheese scores 5g total fat, 3g saturated fat, 65mg sodium and no cholesterol. At all. How good is that?
  • Goat’s cheese doesn’t contain as much protein as pressed cheddar, as it’s less concentrated. But… if you look at the raw product, milk, goat’s milk contains an average of 8.7g protein, whereas cow’s milk contains 8.1g. In a balanced diet containing other sources of protein, the difference is negligible.
  • Other nutrients and vitamins readily available in goat’s cheese include tryptophan (an amino acid), phosphorus, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin A (47% higher than cow’s cheese), niacin (three times as much as cow’s milk), selenium (an antioxidant), potassium and vitamin B6 (25% more than cow’s cheese). Goat cheese also contains a moderate level of probiotics (which aid gastrointestinal health) and lots of calcium (which is essential for bone health, amongst other things).
  • Last but not least, because goat products are often not as mass-produced as cow products, they’re less likely to have nasty synthetic hormones and other additives that can cause allergic reactions. That’s definitely a good thing.

beets1

If you’ve looked at the picture above (yeah, that one of the beetroot) you’re probably wondering why I’ve spent the majority of this post talking about the benefits of goat’s cheese. Well… when eating some warm, crusty bread adorned with goat’s cheese, extra virgin olive oil and a splash of aged balsamic, I guess other things pale in comparison. But, I digress… both beetroot and goat’s cheese are very relevant to this recipe post, as we’ll be roasting this vibrant root vegetable in a deliciously sticky glaze before combining it with soft goat’s cheese, crunchy toasted walnuts, fresh herbs and balsamic dressing (if you’re wondering, beetroot is also very good for you. Take a look at the stats, here).

Below, you’ll find my go-to recipe for this classic roasted beetroot, walnut and chèvre (I felt like being French again) salad. It’s delicious on it’s own, with some added quinoa or as an accompaniment to a crispy-skinned salmon steak. If you feel like experimenting, check the ‘notes’ section below. I’ve included some of my favourite recipe variations which will hopefully be a delicious addition to your table over the festive Summer months.

Thanks again for reading, and apologies that my estimated week (for my next recipe post) ended up being almost two. Jouir de!

saladmont

Roasted Beetroot, Walnut and Chèvre Salad with Balsamic Dressing

Serves 2 as a substantial salad, 4 as an accompaniment.

*When making this recipe, please keep in mind that beetroot stains everything. Everything, including skin, chopping boards, clothing and unvarnished wooden benchtops. Please make sure that you handle them respectfully and cautiously, with gloves if desired. But despite this warning, any incidental staining is definitely worth it.

  • 1 bunch raw baby beets (leaves still attached, if possible)
  • 1/2 small Spanish (red) onion
  • 1 cup (packed) washed and dried baby spinach leaves
  • a handful of parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, roasted then lightly crushed
  • 80g (or more, depending upon your preference) fresh chèvre (soft goat’s cheese), crumbled
  • good quality olive oil, to roast
  • aged balsamic vinegar
  • red wine vinegar
  • a drizzle of honey or rice malt syrup
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil, to dress

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (356 degrees f). Detach leaves from beetroot, wash the small, tender ones well and set them aside (keep the rest of the beet greens! Separate the leaves, finely chop the stalks and saute in olive oil with some finely chopped shallot and a splash of water. Simmer until tender, add some salt (and a knob of butter, if you’re feeling generous) and serve… maybe with a poached egg on top!).

beetmont

Wash your beetroot well under cold running water, trimming any stray roots and tough bits of skin with a small, sharp knife. Pat beetroot dry with a paper towel, then cut them into even-sized wedges. Place them into a shallow, foil-lined baking tray then splash over some good olive oil, some aged balsamic, red wine vinegar, water, sea salt and cracked pepper (I don’t strictly follow any quantities here… basically, you want to create enough liquid for the beetroot to initially steam, then caramelise with a sticky, delicious glaze. Make sure there’s about 0.5-1cm of liquid covering the base of your tray before putting it in the oven). Toss to coat, then place your tray into the preheated oven to cook, turning occasionally, for about 40-60 minutes.

roastingmont

Half way through the cooking time, add in your sliced Spanish onion to caramelise. Your beetroot will be done when the vinegars have reduced, the onion is translucent and slightly browned, and the beetroot can be pierced easily with a knife. Remove the tray from them oven, then allow to cool.

traymont

Now, here’s the easy part: assemble your salad. Place your beetroot, the reserved tender beetroot leaves and spinach in a shallow bowl. Add in three quarters of the walnuts and chèvre. In a separate bowl (or your oven tray, if sufficiently cooled), add the beetroot and onion to your chopped parsley leaves. Toss well to coat, then add to the rest of your ingredients, including a splash more olive oil, balsamic and red wine vinegar. Scatter over the remaining walnuts, chèvre and some freshly cracked black pepper to garnish. Enjoy alone or as an accompaniment to your favourite protein.

salad

Notes:

  • Now you’ve mastered the basics of a beetroot salad, you can adapt this recipe to your individual preferences. Flavours that work wonderfully with beetroot include mint, feta, fresh green peas, yoghurt, crème fraîche or sour cream, Moroccan spices and other root vegetables such as sweet potato or carrots. I’ve made this recipe with additional roasted sweet potato, a sprinkling of dukkah and a yoghurt dressing instead of chèvre. Delicious.
  • An alternate way to roast your beetroot is to wrap it whole, in foil with a good splash of water and red wine vinegar. Place in the oven and roast for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until the vegetable can be easily pierced with a fork. Peel the beetroot, with gloved hands (I am talking from personal experience – beetroot stains take hours of scrubbing to remove), then discard the skins. You can then cut your beetroot into wedges for the above recipe, or finely dice it and add it to lots of finely chopped mint with some finely sliced raw Spanish onion, crumbled chèvre and a splash of extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche. So good with steamed salmon or gravadlax (Swedish dill-cured salmon. So delicious).
  • Beetroot also makes a wonderful base for healthy, vibrantly-hued dips. Roast your beetroot in foil as above, peel then add to a food processor with whatever flavours you desire: Moroccan spices, yoghurt, crème fraîche or sour cream (I like using a bit of both), ground walnuts, fresh mint or parsley, lemon juice and a slug of olive oil. All of these flavours work remarkably well with the beetroot, so definitely experiment and see what combination you like best. My friend Caryse also makes an amazing beetroot dip with pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan… I still need to wheedle out the recipe but it was deliciously good with grilled chicken, sourdough toasts and soft double brie.

bottlemont leaves

Uh, just one more point about my beloved cheese. And a TV show. You may or may not have heard of The Mighty Boosh but this absolute genius-of-a-show was the brainchild of comedians Julian Barrett and Noel Fielding. I’ll let you read up on other details via the link above, but… for the sake of novelty value, I’m going to conclude this post with one of my favourite scenes of all time. Indeed, it is cheese related. Indeed, it is legendary. It’s protein, in video form. Enjoy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8kkwXnTmMc

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