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Simple Sides: Summer Melons

Image of School Mascot with Kids
While many of these recipes may seem very basic, this is by design. It is hoped that these simple preparations will lay the culinary foundation necessary to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their confidence in the kitchen grows. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to decide the division of labor based on age and ability as well as to identify where help might be especially needed.

The competing schedules of today’s 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 even be great fun. 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 your children some basic cooking skills and, more importantly, cooking with your kids will build memories that remain in all of your hearts forever.

Here are a couple of unique summer salads using two of the most popular melons of the season that your young sous chefs will have fun making and even more fun eating. Besides being the perfect light fare to accompany whatever may be grilling on the family’s backyard BBQ, both of these recipes offer your helpers some great culinary lessons. Each one also offers another versatile dressing recipe to add to their own culinary toolbox that will work well in an assortment of other dishes or as tasty marinades.

The primary lesson that your kids should get from both these dishes, beyond honing their physical culinary skills, is not to be afraid to try combining ingredients that are seldom paired together. The fun part of cooking is that there are still new flavors to be created! Whoever heard of putting cantaloupe and pasta together? Although the match makes perfect sense since both share the same Italian heritage. While it may be rare to see honeydew melons and tomatoes on the same plate, the right dressing blends them into perfect sync. In spite of the seemingly odd ingredient matches, both dishes obviously work as you will soon discover that each really has two parts: a first serving and then a second!

Recipe I
There are just three main ingredients in this beautiful looking dish that are enhanced by a flavor-packed dressing. Plus, the dish is a demonstration of the power of mint and basil in combination! A child of any age can make the melon balls as well as separate the basil and mint leaves. If you have more than one size of melon baller, have the kids make a nice mix of varying globes to add a little whimsy to this colorful dish. The uniform slicing of the tomatoes and thin-cut onion should be done by an adult or an older child under supervision; a younger child can also do all the measuring of the dressing’s liquid ingredients. Emphasize that the influence of a good dressing with the right combination of herbs can deepen and expand the flavors of the main ingredients.

Recipe II
Another very simple recipe that should take your kitchen helpers no more than maybe 20 minutes to put together from start to finish. This one stars another interesting dressing that may provide an opportunity for a lesson in the proper use and clean up of the chef’s best friend, a food processor. Again, you can assign your youngest melon ball duty; the coarse chop knife work required for the vegetables is an excellent chance to let an older child practice his/her cutting skills.

Recipe I
Honeydew & Roma Tomato Salad
Serves 6
Image of Honeydew & Roma Tomato Salad
2 lbs. Roma tomatoes
1 Honeydew melon
½ small Red onion
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. orange juice
2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Salt to taste
½ cup lightly packed whole small mint leaves
½ cup lightly packed whole small basil leaves (or large ones torn into smaller pieces)

What kids can do:
  1. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise. Then cut each half into quarters and cross-cut quarters into three equal sections. Put all of the tomatoes into a large shallow serving bowl.
  2. Halve and seed the melon. Using a melon baller, make as many perfectly round balls out of both halves. Add to the bowl of tomatoes.
  3. Trim the top off and slice the onion in half with a cross-cut. Slice one of the halves into thin slabs, then cut each slab in half and separate the half-rings. Add to both of the tomatoes and melon.
  4. Dressing: Measure out and whisk together the olive oil, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, lemon juice and a pinch of salt.
  5. Pour the dressing over the tomatoes, melons and onion.
  6. Add the mint, basil and a pinch of salt, then toss gently but thoroughly.

What the supervising adult should do:
This is a pretty kid-friendly recipe as far as doing everything is concerned. Of course, it might be best to be the taster for adding salt or not. Plus the knife work is your call depending on the age and skills of your child. Too young to hold a knife -- then you do all the slicing and get your child involved by doing all the measuring and mixing.

Recipe II
Melon Pasta Salad with Fresh Herb Vinaigrette
Serves 4
Image of Melon Pasta Salad with Fresh Herb Vinaigrette
1 clove garlic
4-inch celery stalk
2 ounces white balsamic vinegar
2 ounces white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. fresh orange juice
½ cup fresh basil
½ cup fresh Italian parsley
¼ cup olive oil

½ pound penne pasta, cooked and cooled
2 medium red bell peppers, seeded and cut into short strips
3 stalks celery, small chopped
1 cantaloupe, cut into halves and seeded
½ cup Soy Shreds (Mozzarella flavored)
½ cup pine nuts (garnish)

What kids can do:

  1. Combine all of the dressing ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
  2. Prepare the cantaloupe and make it into as many perfectly round balls as possible.
  3. Slice the bell peppers and celery into 1 to 2 inch long thin strips.
  4. Combine the pasta, melon, peppers and celery strips in a large bowl.
  5. Pour dressing over salad and season the salad with salt and black pepper.
  6. Divide the salad among 4 bowls, then sprinkle with pine nuts.

What the supervising adult should do:
To speed up the process, prepare and cool the pasta before your sous chefs get into the kitchen. As the text suggests, take the opportunity to teach your helpers the proper way to both use and clean a food processor. Again, a very simple set of procedures that your kids should have no trouble accomplishing with little physical help, yet always a watchful eye.

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