Today, in Colorado Springs, we have a high of 68 degrees F (20 C) with (praise God) rain. It’s by no means the end of summer, but is for sure the harbinger of fall. Our jeans and fleeces never get put away as they do in Chicago or Minneapolis because we never know if we’ll have that bizarre August snow or just the run of the mill welcome and chilly summer evening when we sip a little stronger something out at the fire pit watching the stars. (Remember watching the stars?)
This time of the year, we’re so happy with our Palisades peaches, Rocky Ford cantelope and watermelon, Pueblo or Hatch chiles, jalapeños, home grown tomatoes, fresh herbs, and Olathe sweet corn that sometimes we celebrate our soon-to-end warm weather by making dinner out of just those ingredients. A few additions like salt and pepper, arugula, Sherry vinegar, goat or mozzarella cheese, and maybe a little oil make the meal just what it ought to be. One night there’s a version starring ruby red watermelon and the next day it’s Halloween-orange cantelope instead; sometimes a berry of some sort gets thrown in. I call it, “The Ever-Changing Salad,” not because it must change, but only because by nature, it just does. And we’re so glad of that.
The first time I threw these ingredients together a couple of years ago (too hot to cook), I just posted a photo (seen at the top of the post) in social media with the ingredients. There’s really no need for a recipe and, at any rate, if you’re making this meal, it should be exactly how you like it. The stars are peaches, melon, and tomatoes and then you can add or swap in lots of other fruit or vegetables. Unless you’re a vegan, though, I think the fresh mozzarella or goat cheese is central. I did later figure out maybe a lot of it could morph somehow, but still keep a similar profile. (Keep reading.) My original list of ingredients went like this:
- Diced ripe peaches
- Diced watermelon
- Halved cherry tomatoes
- Diced English cucumbers
- Fresh mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
- Sherry (or balsamic) vinegar
- A mere sprinkle of salt and pepper
- Julienne basil
- (optional: diced avocado)
While the proportions could always vary depending on what you had on hand (and how sweet the fruit was), I found equal amounts of peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, and cucumbers went well with half that amount of cheese or avocado, for instance. But because the juxtaposition of sweet, salty, crunchy, pucker-y, fatty, and so on sometimes got tweaked, a drizzle of lemon or orange juice or maybe an additional sprinkle of salt could be called for. Here’s an example: You want to add avocado instead of cheese. Great, but cheese is a salty element and since avocado isn’t (it’s fatty and satisfying), you could try a little more salt. Or, maybe this: There’s no cucumber in your fridge, but because cucumber provides a big crunch factor, you’ll look around for something crunchy to replace it. Celery? Nuts? See? Everything cannot be the same texture for the dish to maintain its interest in your mouth. Yes, you’ll need to think, look, taste, and see but even if you don’t pick up on all the clues, you’ll eat well and be happy. Dressing? Truly no vinaigrette is absolutely needed, and I often use only a drizzle of sherry vinegar.
VERSION 2: Recently, I began to make this salad but had no watermelon. Cantaloupe it was. In the fridge rested an ear of grilled corn I then cut off the cob and threw in for crunch. A few perky blueberries hopped in for color. I kept the peaches, sliced cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and arugula, but added minced jalapeño as well as a pinch of crushed red pepper (you know me) along with the salt, pepper, Sherry vinegar, and a little California olive oil this time. I think I skipped the herbs, though arugula is technically an herb. We were hungry. Was it even better? I don’t know, but we liked it just as well. No doubt we’d keep making and eating it another day. Who knew what might come together?
VERSION 3: Our good friends Chris and Dave were driving up I-25 and stopping for a flying cup of coffee on their way back to Minneapolis. I got the coffee ready to perk and made a batch of peach scones only to find out our friends were running late and would be here at lunchtime instead. I thawed a couple of quarts of turkey chili and looked at what I had for salad. The usual almost-September suspects of “The Ever-Changing Salad,” were lying around in wait or in the fridge hoping for a new home. This time pitted fresh cherries, sliced teensy-tiny baby zucchini, and parsley joined the hometown gang of peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, fresh mozzarella, and arugula. I should have added the jalapeño, but in my blurry hurry forgot it. Next time!
VERSION 4: My close friend Sue of St. Paul and I had texted back and forth about this salad after I sent her an original photo and, not liking the idea of melon or cucumber, she added mango to the crowd of peaches, fresh mozzarella, etc. Having no basil, she tossed in mint. She loved it. Ok, so that’s MY next version, too! (And that’s how this thing seriously begins morphing.)
VERSION 5: Will have to be yours. Maybe you’ll tell me about it. Or just eat it and smile, relishing your addition of roasted poblano strips, small, sweet strawberries, shower of cilantro or ________. While the salad is a lovely side to a roast chicken or a slew of BBQ pork chops if you’re cooking for a family or some friends, it’s just enough for dinner all on its own. Maybe a little butter with your bread, as my sister-in-law Carolyn says. A really cold bottle of rosé. (I saw a trick recently about freezing rosé in ice cube trays and using the frozen cubes to keep the wine cold. Nice.) Taking your bowl outside with the stars would be enough to get you to squeeze shut your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose at the same time–grateful makes you feel good, you see. Be outdoors while you can. (Those folks in Utah saw a meteor the other night, right?)
I already changed it up; the rest is up to you. Be brave cooks. Taste and enjoy. Life’s too short to not do that. Best recommendation here is to eat it all at its peak. That said… you could try sweet peppers, which I didn’t. Or cooked wild rice. Or grapes. I also did not put nuts or seeds in anywhere and you sure as shooting should if you like them. I just forgot them. Next time maybe roasted or even candied pecans. Salted pepitas. Sesame seeds. Or crushed tortilla chips; doesn’t this have some of the same feels as a fruit salsa? Yeah, yeah. What else?
Because all of this wondrous food is fresh (even fresh mozzarella doesn’t last too long), you’ll likely not waste much of it. If God is good, and she is, you’ll learn your own tricks for using up boo-koo produce at times like this. The goal is to just keep eating it. Don’t slough off! You won’t see the likes of this again for a year. So think like this: Strawberry smoothie for breakfast, strawberry salad for lunch (maybe throw a chicken breast or goat cheese in), and strawberry shortcake for dinner. It’s ok; I’ll write you a note.
BUT WHAT IF THERE ARE TOO MANY PEACHES!!! That just happened to me. I like this easy method of freezing peaches for another good day. (See photos below.) I grew up canning and I’m not doing it anymore, at least not very often. How about peach pie for Thanksgiving? You can bake with frozen peaches–no need to thaw. Thawed peaches on homemade vanilla ice cream for Christmas Eve dessert? What about frozen peaches in your New Year’s sangria? Smoothies anytime? March cobblers? Good friend Tony made us a stunning Peach Gazpacho the other day to share before pinochle. Wow; it was summer in a bowl. There are lots of reasons to freeze great, ripe fruit — and only one of them is that it shouldn’t go to waste.
I thought this was worth looking at: 32 Easy, No-Cook Meals to Get You Through Summer/REALSIMPLE
and this is def worth listening to…Bob Schneider singing “Peaches”--great actor in video is lip sinking.
LIFE GOES ON:
Thanks for keeping me company in my kitchen, which has been really busy lately and is only getting busier in September. No complaints here; it’s good to be occupied… with (hopefully) delicious results!!
Enjoy the last days of summer and salad up, you guys,