Sunday, June 24, 2007

Salad Stravaganza LALAland Style

A few weeks ago fellow food blogger, Daring Baker, good friend and surely one of the funniest ladies I know, Lisa from La Mia Cucina and Kelly of the wonderful Sass and Veracity, who is also a fellow Daring Baker and fast becoming a good friend, announced they were hosting a salad diet to end all salad diets food event to help all us Daring Bakers (and anyone else who wanted to join in) shed those unwanted pounds that snuck up on us all during the winter months and then were tackled by those additional pounds that making things like Red Velvet Cake, Crepe Cakes from Hell, and the seriously unreal (in the most fabulous way) Gateau St. Honore has put on top. Thus was born Salad Stravaganza.

I wasn't sure I was going to be able to participate in this event, even though it does fall in line with and may even help me kick start the 30/90 v2.0 plan that I'm about half way through. (Let's not talk about that right now,ok?) It has been a crazy month at work and the due date of June 25th was sneaking up on me quickly. But, on Wednesday night last week, I found a salad that just screamed "MAKE ME FOR SALAD STRAVAGANZA" and when a plate of veggies or fruit does that...well, who am I to disobey?

I was in Los Angeles last week for a business trip, a trade show for my industry actually. It was the first major event I've attended since I started the new gig in NYC and needless to say, I was excited to see colleagues and friends. I had a young consultant from our offices with me; which was fun since he is a rising star in the business and the type of person I like to mentor. I even had a Yoda moment half way through the first day, when it was taking us some serious time to walk from booth to booth because people I've know and worked with for over 15 years kept coming up congratulating me. Weedhopper asked if there was anybody in the industry who didn't know me about the time one of the heavy weights walked up gave me a bear hug, a slap on the back, and shook my hand all at the same time. "No Weedhopper...."

On Wednesday night after three days of being wined and dined, I took Weedhopper to LAX so he could catch a red-eye back to NYC (ah youth). Since we were in the neighborhood, I decided to treat him to a really nice dinner at a restaurant near LAX in Marina Del Rey that I always go to when I'm out in the Land of Plastic, Cafe Del Rey. I love this place because they have wonderful and inventive food and a wine list that always features some of the up and coming California vineyards. Even on Tuesday and Wednesday night you better have a reservation here. We settled ourselves at the bar since you can get the full menu served there and the bartenders are some of the nicest people you will meet. I ordered these wonderful braised duck spring rolls for an appetizer and Weedhopper ordered something that just didn't sound like it would be all that good, a Heirloom Brandywine Tomato and Watermelon Salad in a basil infused balsamic vineagar dressing. I mean this is tomato (acid) combined with something sweet (watermelon). Only in Lalaland would you find something this whacked on a menu parading as a salad. When his salad arrived, it was stunning. No, it was more than stunning. It was one of the most gorgeous salads I've ever seen. They sliced the tomatoes into thick slices and layered it with same sized slices of watermelon. Between the layers, there were whole leaves of basil. The dressing was poured over the top and drizzled down the side of the stack of tomato and watermelon. And the taste? I died and went to heaven. It was the best tomato salad I've had with the exception of the tomato and basil salad I had in Italy a few years ago.

So, when I got home on Thursday, I had one plan of action and that was to find a big huge heirloom tomato at the farmers market in Central Square or at Whole Foods on Fresh Pond and make this salad. On Friday, I biked to the Whole Foods and when I walked in, I found the tomato I was looking for in the form of a Marmande tomato.

Grabbing a really nice sized tomato and some watermelon, I biked home to pick some sun warmed basil from my garden and set about recreating the tomato watermelon salad I had fallen in love with in LA.

I started by dicing the tomato and watermelon into irregular chunks and slicing a handful of basil leaves. I tossed them with sea salt and pepper for seasoning and then drizzling a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the chunks of fruit (you remember, a tomato is a fruit right?). I then put the salad into the fridge for a few hours to allow the flavours to mingle.

And mingle they did. Look at all those shiny and tasty chunks of tomato and watermelon.

Ah, summer on a fork...

LaLaLand Tomato and Watermelon Salad
inspired by the Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Salad at Cafe Del Rey in Marina Del Rey, CA

Serves 2

1 large heirloom tomato (you want one with big flavour to match the watermelon), cut into chunks
1 1/2 cup seedless watermelon, cut into chunks
1 cup fresh basil, cut into thin slices
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, torn into small pieces
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

In a glass bowl or container with a lid, combine all the ingredients. Cover the salad and let sit in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight. Serve with crusty bread.