I made this salad two years ago, and I’ve never stopped thinking about it. It was part of a series of menus I did for different times of the year – this was meant to be the first installment, set to publish in late May. Due to circumstances far too buisness-y for me to be involved in (I’m less Don Draper and more Peggy in these situations), the menu series didn’t begin until late September of that year, which means most of the recipes I had done for May had to be scrapped or reworked for the season and theme.
It’s a shame, because this particular collection of recipes was lovely: a fun balance of late spring fare and early summer grilling fun – indeed, the theme of the feature was grilling, so one of the criteria given to me was that the menu should have a wide variety of grilled everything – sides, mains, even desserts. As someone who – at the time, at least – rarely grilled, the process was a learning experience for me, and I paid a lot of attention to what grilling does to different things.
Grilling can be unnecessary: just because you can throw something on the grill doesn’t always mean you should. Seductive grill marks aside, you have to think about what’s best for the thing you’re trying to cook.
Does melon need to be cooked? Nope. But peaches and pineapple don’t either, and we love throwing those on the grill. And we don’t do it because it’s better, either: every fruit I just mentioned is perfectly gorgeous as it is, every time. So why grill fruit? Easy: because grilling some fruits brings something specific, something deeper, out in them that you can’t get just eating them straight up. It’s a smokiness added to their sweetness, a delicate caramelization of the sugars they carry inside, a juiciness which condenses to glaze in the heat. It’s wonderful, really: a series of reactions over a few minutes’ time that can turn your beautiful summer fruits into something even more beautiful.
Which is why this salad was one of my favorites in this recipe collection. I saved the entire group; they were well-thought out and as perfect as individual recipes as they were all together. I hope you try this: grilled cantaloupe is a stunning way to top a salad, and the hint of smoke added to melon’s sweetness is an incredibly sassy combination. The stuff around it doesn’t hurt, either: there’s grapes, pecans, manchego, and a hot paprika vinaigrette you’ll want to throw on all your salads. If you can’t get enough melons in your body right now and you’re in the mood for something colder, I made this grilled cantaloupe sorbet after I developed this salad and because of my immediate love for what grilling can do for fruit: it’s intense and completely refreshing, and it’s another reason to grill your melons.
It’s hot right now where I am: that’s not a whine, but rather an actual fact. I went out for a few minutes yesterday and I felt like my skin was about to spontaneously combust. I’ve developed a minor obsession with The Great British Baking Show and it’s spinoff Masterclass series, so all I want to do is bake: an odd feeling for me during what seems to be the hottest month of the year. I’d say it’s a passing phase, but I made a babka the other day (some of you saw that on Instagram), and I’m maybe making Mary Berry’s apricot wobbly pie today…we’ll see. The babka’s coming up as soon as I can type it up: If you can’t wait, head over to where Natalie lives and see what she made: babka rolls! We like to do things together (even when that means baking in the heat), and I think her creations is pretty ingenious, if you ask me. Probably wanna eat more of this salad to counterbalance the calories, just saying.
Grilled Cantaloupe Salad with Hot Paprika Vinaigrette
Serves | 4 | as a main, | 8 | as a side
Cantaloupe takes on a smoky, shadowy flavor when grilled, a contrast to its sunny sweetness. Be careful not to overdo it; seconds matter, so watch the slices closely, working in batches as needed. Works especially well as a side for grilled chicken, pork or shrimp.
Hot Paprika Vinaigrette
- 3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- 3 Tbsp good-quality honey
- 1/2 tsp Hungarian hot paprika
- 1/3 cup grapeseed oil
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Grilled Cantaloupe Salad
- 1 cantaloupe, skin and seeds removed, sliced into 8 equal crescents
- 3 Tbsp grapeseed oil
- 6 oz mesclun greens
- 6 oz baby arugula
- small bunch basil leaves, in thin ribbons
- 12 oz black or red grapes, halved lengthwise
- 4 oz manchego, crumbled
- 4 to 5 oz pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
- sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
| Preparation – Hot Paprika Vinaigrette | In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, honey, and paprika. Continue whisking and slowly stream in grapeseed oil until emulsified; season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow flavors to blend.
| Preparation – Grilled Cantaloupe Salad | Brush cantaloupe slices with grapeseed oil on both sides and grill for 1 1/2 minutes per side until grill marks form but fruit remains firm. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly.
| To Serve | Toss mesclun greens, baby arugula, and basil together in large bowl until evenly distributed; divide onto plates. Divide grapes over top; lay cantaloupe slices in the center. Divide manchego crumbles and pecan halves over top and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with Hot Paprika Vinaigrette.