Cookin with the Kids
Simple Sides: Savory Melon Dinner Salad
By Dennis Linden
Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a little planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where adult attention might be especially needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic -- this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all of your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
It’s finally summer! A time when many family dinners are moved to the great outdoors; even if that is a wrought iron glass-top table on a composite deck next to a gas-fired barby! Still, here’s a delicious no-stove side dish that the whole family can pitch in to prepare on a balmy summer’s evening, while the main course is sizzling on the grill. This simple dish also demonstrates to beginner cooks that fruit, even three common summer melon varieties usually eaten out of hand or as a breakfast starter, can be transformed into a savory summer dinner side — that is, when “dressed” properly for the occasion!
The first task in this recipe is definitely for all ages and culinary experiences. The “dicing” of all three melons can be interpreted strictly or loosely depending on the small hands doing the slicing. If your helper is a child with a good deal of kitchen and knife experience, then the supervising adult should focus that young chef on practicing a precise small dice—and three melon halves will provide plenty of practice! Conversely, melons are a very forgiving fruit, so if your assistant is quite young, even a plastic knife will slice through any of these varieties, maybe with a little help from the adult in the room? At this stage of a child’s introduction to the kitchen it really should not be about the final product looking pretty, but rather to simply instill interest in cooking. If culinary curiosity is perked, then appearance through better prep will become a natural goal as that curiosity is followed. And no matter the “imprecise” job done by your youngest sous chef, the pride that comes from being included in the prep of a family meal is priceless and character building!
Once all the melons are cut-up, it’s a good time to point out to your helpers that one could go in many culinary directions starting with a bowl of assorted melons: like ice cream, smoothies or any number of sweet desserts. Or one can take that same bowl of melons soaked in a mixture of olive oil, fresh ginger, lime and soy sauce then sprinkled with lentils to make a much more substantial side dish. While the dressing is the key to transforming the sweet fruits into a savory dish, the refreshing qualities of the melons make this side the perfect light summer fare to go with whatever is sizzling on the grill.
A few prep notes on the dressing: All three of these melons have a lot of water content. Though only 6 oz. of liquid is contained in the marinade, you will note that much more liquid will have collected at the bottom of the bowl during the marinating process. I used that extra liquid to advantage by tossing the melons a few times while they soaked in the liquid, then drained much of it off before serving and storing. To mince the ginger, I peeled, chopped and then ran the pieces through a small Cuisinart “stick” until a fine grate was achieved. Depending upon the experience of your kitchen assistants, this component might be best prepared by an adult ahead of time.
At first glance, the odd ingredient out in this recipe is certainly Melissa’s Steamed Lentils. That is until tasted! The combination simply works and, along with the aid of a savory dressing, your kitchen crew will help transform a simple bowl of cut-up melon into an altogether new and different kind of side dish. Plus, being ready to use and enjoy right out of the box quickens the prep time of this dish.
BTW, while serving this dish at room temperature as the recipe suggests was quite tasty, I must say that overnight leftovers, chilled and obviously marinated longer, was my preference. In theory, this dish could be stored for up to four days in the home refrigerator; however, chances are the bowl will be emptied, cleaned and put away long before that!
Three-Melon Lentil Salad
YIELD: 6 servings
½ small Seedless Watermelon, diced
½ Cantaloupe melon, seeded and diced
½ Honeydew melon, seeded and diced
1/3 cup Fresh ginger, peeled & minced (approx. two 3” pieces)
2 oz. lime juice
2 oz. soy sauce
2 oz. olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 pkg. Melissa’s Steamed Lentils
What the kids can do:
Trim off the rind of all 3 melons, remove all seeds and small dice (½-inch). Put all of the diced melon pieces in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl combine the ginger, sesame seeds, lime juice, soy sauce, 2 oz. of the olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Mix well and pour over the melon. Toss, and let marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.
Add the lentils right from package into the melon mixture and stir gently to mix.
What the supervising adult should do:
Trimming the rinds off the melons and pre-mincing the fresh ginger, leaves your helpers to focus on dicing, measuring and mixing. Transfer final mixture to a large serving bowl, present family style at room temperature.