Much of the so-called cooking I do in summer is just assembling. Slice up whatever produce is on hand, add something creamy or salty for texture and tang, then dress it all with olive oil and a handful of herbs. Total time spent: 20 minutes. Pleasure received: an entire evening’s worth. Repeat for the whole month of August.
For hot-weather meals like these, the classics never fail. Tomatoes with mozzarella, basil, maybe a few peaches; cucumbers with red onions, olives or capers; melon with feta and a few leaves of mint.
When the heat becomes especially oppressive, my family is happy to eat one of these light salads for dinner and call it a night. Add a little bread to catch the juices, and pair it with a spritz or cold white wine to round out the meal.
But there are nights when something more substantial is required — maybe people are coming over, or the temperature dropped enough to restore our appetites.
My current strategy for turning almost any summer salad into a robust meal is to throw some quickly grilled or broiled shrimp on top. This works with tomatoes and mozzarella, and it works with cucumbers and onions. But it’s especially wonderful with melon and feta in this speedy, weeknight-friendly recipe.
Often when I cook shrimp, they’re the sweetest, mellowest elements on the plate, sharpened by the likes of garlic and lemon. But here, next to the melon, they taste more savory, their briny succulence and some char from the grill a contrast to the juicy cubes of melon (any kind will do: watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew or a combination for the more colorful salad).
Chunks of creamy, pungent feta liven the whole thing up. Here’s a tip for using feta. Taste it right out of the package; if it’s too salty and intense, let it soak in some fresh water for an hour or two. This really tones it down.
There aren’t a lot of other ingredients here, just slivers of chile for heat, the grated zest and juice of a couple of floral-scented limes for acidity and some toasted coriander for crunch. It’s a simple yet powerful mix.
And if applying heat to anything just seems out of the question, you can substitute precooked shrimp here, marinating them in the chile-lime mixture for half an hour or so. It’s an assembled summer dinner, in a very deluxe way.