Oh how I love summer – the sounds of blues on the green, the waves splashing on the beach, the smell of Coppertone as it hits your skin, drinking a cold beer while toobing down on the river, eating ice cream sandwiches as it melts between your fingers, the smell of grilled meat during a bbq. I love it all …well except for the blistering heat in Texas. When summertime comes it’s as though certain fruits and vegetables ripen in flavor and taste better. Notice how tomatoes have more flavor and watermelon taste sweeter? Summer is their peak season and truly the best time to have them.
I decided to treat my taste buds to these summertime flavors with Whole Foods’ Lunch Express class: Summertime Garden. The menu featured Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Watermelon Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette; Saffron Rice Salad with Shrimp, Haricot Verts, Dolce Peppers and Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette; and Madeleines with Rose Scented Cream for dessert. Our teacher, Wes Mickel, was AWESOME! In the mix of demonstrating each dish, he shared facts like there are at least 400 varieties of tomatoes, how to purchase the right tomato, how to pickle onions, the differences between a green bean and a haricot vert or that you can keep vinegar for years! He also introduced me to the dolce and lipstick peppers. I am still amazed at the extensive variety of vegetables out there in the produce universe!
We started with the heirloom tomato salad. It was one of the best salads I have ever had, up there with the wedge salad from Perry’s and a few others. Such a simple salad made with a few ingredients was full of savory bites of sweet yellow watermelon, ruby red heirloom tomato, ripe avocado glazed perfectly with a dressing of sherry vinegar, olive oil and fresh cracked pepper. The sea salt on the heirloom tomato reminded me of summers spent in East Texas visiting my Grandmother and eating tomato slices during lunch. When finished, I literally wanted to drink the remaining dressing on my plate or slop it up with my index finger. But I refrained.
Here’s the recipe if you want to try it at home:
Heirloom Tomato, Avocado and Watermelon Salad with Sherry Vinegar (serves 4-6, but really I could eat the whole thing)
3-4 small heirloom tomatoes, cored, ripe, juicy and cut into thin wedges
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes
1 cup yellow or red seedless watermelon, cut into small pieces
1 avocado, cut into small cubes
1/4 cup mixed herbs, cut small (basil, parsley, tarragon, mint, chives and cilantro all work well)
1 tsp toasted coriander seeds, roughly ground
1/2 cup Sherry vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
In a small sauce pan over medium heat, reduce the Sherry vinegar and sugar until it has reduced to about 1/4 c. Allow the reduction to cool. In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon and avocado with 1/2 the herbs, ground coriander, 1 T extra virgin olive oil and a light seasoning of salt and pepper. Place all the contents on a serving platter or individual plates and finish the salad with a splash of the sherry vinegar reduction, the remaining herbs and salt and fresh cracked pepper.
The second course was the saffron rice salad with shrimp. During the demonstration, Chef Mickel explained how to pickle the remaining red onions and extend the life of unused vegetables. Apparently you can pickle anything with 1 pt sugar and 2 pt vinegar and keep it around for a month or so. Duality noted! As I consumed the second salad of the day, I noticed how the shrimp worked nicely with the smoked paprika vinaigrette and saffron rice. Though I really enjoyed this salad, I was still thinking about the first.
The last course was the madeleines. Unforunately this course was a bit disappointing. The madeleines came presented deliciously and I couldn’t wait to sink my folks into them. I found them dense and chewy. I was surprised since Chef Mickel used a workout analogy about the dough. Working the dough = working your muscles. You must allow the dough to rest or the dough will shrink during baking resulting in tough and chewy madeleines. Looks like someone didn’t let my madeleine dough rest enough leaving my jaw a little sore. And to continue this downer moment, I didn’t get enough of the rose water flavor but what I did expect since it only called for a tsp. But I did enjoy the vanilla bean paste. I had no idea it existed and will keep it in mind for future baking projects.
Despite the disappointing dessert, I ended up waddling out of my cooking class, which is a good sign that I enjoyed myself. I am already planning my next class at the culinary center – Healthy Tex-Mex, I’m highly suspicious…
Whole Foods Culinary Center – http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/cookingclasses.php