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Simple Sides: Savory Summer Melon Stacks

By Dennis Linden
Image of Savory Sumer Melon Stacks
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. 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.
Image of recurring kids
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 and confidence 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 some basic culinary skills and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all your hearts forever. Enjoy your kids in the kitchen, they will be grown & gone before you know it! “No one is born a great cook; one learns by doing” – Julia Child.

It's summertime “and the livin’ is easy” or at least should not be spent in the kitchen, especially on a warm, sunny day with no school to attend. So, start this recipe at the family’s backyard picnic table under a shade tree! This setting is practical, too, as working with juicy summer melons can be a bit messy. While most kids enjoy the refreshing taste of a chilled melon as a healthy snack food on hot days, this dish demonstrates that fresh melons can also be savory as well as artfully plated. The dish teaches that both the taste and presentation of a common melon can be easily upgraded with a few unique flavor additives not normally associated with these fruits and then staged using some fun arts ‘n crafts construction.

This dish is both attractive and deliciously healthy. Fresh melons are packed with vitamins and nutrients that contribute to a healthy, well-hydrated metabolism. The Honeydew melon is a low-sodium, potassium-rich fruit, which contributes to maintaining healthy blood pressure levels. Honeydew contains nutrients that are vital for bone health, including folate, vitamin K and magnesium. Honeydews are loaded with lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that are known to support healthy eyes and vision.

Cantaloupes have both immediate and potentially long-term health benefits. The variety has much more fiber than honeydew and is packed with B vitamins that help maintain energy within cells and control blood glucose levels. Compared to honeydews, cantaloupes contain more than twice the amount of vitamin C and over 60% more vitamin A!

The inherent mess of working with juicy melons and dealing with all the leftover rinds can almost be completely avoided by using those clamshells of pre-cut melon pieces found in most large grocery stores. Choose any two varieties, except watermelon as the texture just will not work in this dish. Your helpers can then focus on the one critical task that is required for the “stacking” element of the recipe—the art of the small dice. For a child with some basic slicing experience, it is best for the supervising adult in the room to demonstrate how to turn a large hunk of melon into tiny cubes. The cubes do not have to be perfect, though the tiny size is a must for the plating to work. The task is great practice of one of the basic cuts in cooking; doing it correctly should generate a few kudos from the supervising adult, which is always a culinary confidence builder.

For a household with multiple chef helpers, there are prep tasks for any age. Measuring out the flavor supports only requires basic math, plus a few measuring spoons and a measuring cup. There is even a job for the youngest assistants wanting to be included: tearing butter leaves off the head and then ripping them again into bite-size pieces, no experience required.

Packing the melon mixture into the ring molds will be the highlight of this recipe for the kids. If you do not have a ring mold, a quick solution is the plumbing aisle of any hardware store. Choose from an assortment of round connection cylinders proportional to the size of plates used for this recipe. Culinary fun on a hot summer day!

Savory Summer Melon Stack
Yield: 4 servings
Image of ingredients
Ingredients
2 cups Honeydew, small diced
2 cups Cantaloupe, small diced
2 oz. Lemon Juice
1 teaspoon ground ginger
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
4 tablespoons minced green onion tops, divided
1 tablespoon rice vinegar, divided
2 cups, loosely packed, butter lettuce leaves
2 ounces feta
Ground black pepper

Preparation
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Combine the diced melons in a bowl, fold in lime juice and ginger plus half the olive oil, half the green onion and half the vinegar.
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Place butter lettuce in a separate bowl and toss the remaining oil and the vinegar. Now arrange dressed butter lettuce in a circle on each of 4 salad plates, leaving the center of each plate blank.
Image of stacked melon dices
Pile melon mixture in the center of each plate; or pack a small ring mold tightly with the melon mixture to make an attractive stack.
Image of cheese preparation
Mix the cheese and remaining green onion in small bowl, then top each melon stack with a small mound. Drizzle a little of the remaining olive oil on the cheese, add fresh pepper to taste.
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