Summer Salads, Creole Style, Courtesy of Chef Johnny Schulze

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The summer doldrums of late July have hit–I can’t stand the heat, and I want to get out of the kitchen! You would think with the extra hours of daylight in the evenings, I would be inspired to dive into some of those really involved recipes that are waiting for me in my recipe file. (No, I still have not switched over to the “cloud.”) Maybe it’s because the kids don’t have a set schedule, or maybe it’s just the heat and humidity working on me. But like a lot of people, I turn to lighter, faster, simpler fare–grilled meats, grilled fish and fun, creative salads.

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The grilling is a work in progress–our gas grill runs so hot that it takes a great deal of scientific extrapolation–calculations involving density, mass, thermodynamics, the earth’s rotation–to keep my salmon filets from becoming fishy smelling briquettes in just a couple of minutes. While I tinker with the settings on the grill and hope for the best, I can always fall back on my recipes from Chef Johnny Schulze of Zydeco Bistro Gourmet Food Truck and The Bourbon Street Barrel Room in Cleveland (Read The Zydeco Chef Visits Houston’s Peli Peli.). I text Johnny with all my food and cooking questions–I’d worry about bugging him too much, but he’s my brother-in-law–what’s he gonna do?

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Working mostly in the small space of his mobile restaurant, his focus is fresh, locally sourced ingredients, creative use of herbs and spices, and recipes that come together quickly. These two salads are on different ends of the spectrum–one is a light and sweeter, the other savory and more substantial. Both are delicious, easy to make and can get you out of the kitchen pretty quickly.


Zydeco Watermelon Salad with Fresh Mint and Feta

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It seems that everyone is coming out with a watermelon salad recipe this summer, and I have tried a few of these that are just fine. But you’ll love this one because of the contrast between the sweet watermelon and the bite of the vinegar and the cayenne-based seasoning. The creamy feta and cool mint bring all the flavors together.

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The recipe calls for pickled watermelon rind, which I searched high and low for at my local grocery stores to no avail. (Buying online might be another possibility.) Chef Johnny says this ingredient is optional, so your recipe will still come out great without it. I think Johnny makes his own, but since pickling is not my strong suit, I left it out.

Wait to combine the watermelon with the other ingredients until you are ready to serve this salad, otherwise the watermelon will release its juices, becoming soppy, and you will end up with a bowl of watermelon soup!

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Ingredients:  

2 cups watermelon, large dice

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 tablespoon, fresh mint leaves, minced

1 teaspoon chives, minced

1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled

1 tablespoon grape seed oil or vegetable oil

Cajun/Creole seasoning to taste

1/4 cup pickled watermelon rind, slivered (optional)

(Note: I added a handful of blueberries for color and because I happened to have so many on hand.)

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Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl no more than 15 minutes before serving. Keep cool.

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There are differing opinions about how (or whether) to pair a wine with a super sweet fruit like watermelon. A comment I found on one of my favorite wine blogs suggested a Moscato D’Asti.

Often used as an apertif or dessert wine, Moscato D’Asti is a sweet, lower alcohol, sparkling Italian white that goes well with lighter, sweeter dishes. Searching through my wine frig, I did not find a Moscato D’Asti, but I did come upon a bottle of Muscato Blanco (aka Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains), which is the primary grape used to make Moscato D’Asti. The 2010 Muscato Blanco was from Flat Creek Estate, a lovely vineyard near Marble Falls, Texas. Their Muscato Blanco is a smooth, versatile semi-sweet wine, whose peach and citrus notes work nicely with the watermelon and the Cajun seasoning.

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For best results, serve poolside!


Chef Johnny’s Creole Black-Eyed Pea Salad

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For a heartier salad that can be used as a side dish or a main course (You “Meatless Monday” fans, I’m talking to you!), this black-eyed pea salad fits the bill. The peas and kale make it a nutrition powerhouse. The fresh herbs, Creole spice mix and hot sauce give it added depth and zing,

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Green onions, celery and bell peppers provide a fresh crunch to the mix. I like that Johnny has taken the type of ingredients you would “cook down” if you were preparing a traditional pot of black-eyed peas and made them part of the salad.

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In my opinion, the secret weapon that makes this salad special is the minced giardiniera, which is used in the classic New Orleans muffuletta sandwich. The crunch and acidity from this Italian style pickled vegetable mix add yet another layer of texture and flavor to the salad.

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Johnny’s recipe calls for kale that has been cut using a technique known as chiffonade, a method of thinly slicing flat, leafy vegetables and herbs. The word apparently means “made of rags” in French. You’ve used this technique if you have ever sliced basil into long, thin ribbons for garnish.

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To chiffonade the kale, stack a pile of the kale leaves together, roll them into a tube and thinly slice them perpendicular to the roll.

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The tendrils of kale are a beautiful and lively addition to this great combination of ingredients.

Ingredients:

2 cups black-eyed peas, boiled until tender but not too soft, then drained and cooled

1 cup kale, cut chiffonade (thinly sliced)

1/2  cup bell peppers, any combination of colors (The more colorful, the better.)

1/4 cup celery, small dice

1/4 bunch green onions, thinly sliced, including the white bottoms

1/4 cup pickled giardiniere mix (mild or spicy), minced

1/4 ounce each, fresh basil, parsley, thyme and oregano, finely chopped

2 ounces olive oil

2 ounces red wine vinegar

1 ounce Worcestershire sauce

1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice

hot sauce, to taste

salt, pepper, Creole seasoning, to taste

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After you have gathered and prepared all your ingredients, gently mix everything together.

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Cool the salad for about an hour, then serve. You might enjoy it with a crisp Pinot Grigio. This one is a 2011 Castello d’Albola Pinot Grigio Friuli Aquileia from Northern Italy.

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The salad gets better the longer it is chilled, allowing all the flavors to meld. You may enjoy it so much that it replaces your traditional New Year’s Day black-eyed peas. But right now it’s July and it’s way too hot to start thinking about January.

So relax, take a sip of wine and enjoy these two dishes before summer slips away!

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