If you go to Mexico City and leave without a pressing, relentless craving for melon, or really just about any fruit, sprinkled with tajín (salsa en polva), a branded seasoning powder comprised of chiles, lime and salt, I think you need to go back because you did it wrong. It feels melodramatic to call this intersection of tangy spice and juicy fruit a national dish, but the spice blend is a staple on tables and at street vendors all over Mexico, and I dare say more popular than ketchup is here. If you go to someone’s home and they have a bottle of tajin in their cabinet, it’s usually right up front and there’s a spare somewhere near because it would be unfathomable to run out. If asked, the person will probably tell you that they had it once over melon, mango, pineapple or cucumbers one time, or maybe in a michelada and they could never eat it another way again. I hope you consider that a warning.
Although in Mexico it’s a street snack, as unfussy as can be, because I’m a no-fun person who hates eating standing up, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a salad of it for some time and finally figured it out. Here, the lime juice is squeezed fresh, the chili powder is sprinkled to taste, the salt is coarse and I add other accents — roasted pepitas, crumbled cotija and chopped cilantro. It works as part a brunch spread (I think all brunch spread need more salad), with some sort of taco-centric meal or as the heat wave salad of my dreams.
Are there equivalent seasonings in other countries? In Indian cooking, there’s chaat masala, a sour spice I cannot get enough of. Li hing is a powdered format of Chinese dried plum that’s popular in Hawaii. I tried to come up with a US approximation of it but came up blank. I’m asking only partially out of culinary curiosity and mostly because I’m going to need one of each, stat.
Chile-Lime Melon Salad
I used a mix of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew here but you could use all of one or a mix of two. You might also use mango and pineapple or other stone fruits (peaches, apricots and plums). Even vegetables (cucumber and jicama, maybe with avocado too) will taste good with this treatment. I used a melon baller to cut the melon but chunks and/or slices will work just as well (and be less wasteful). I used cotija cheese but if you can’t get it, ricotta salata is a close swap, followed by feta, but look for a very firm one. Finally, this salad more than all others needs to be made to taste; I jotted down the proportions I used but you might want more or less salt, cheese, lime, heat herbs and then some, so adjust it accordingly.
- 4 cups chopped or balled melon (from about 1 cantaloupe or honeydew, or 1/4 a large watermelon)
- Juice of half a lime, divided, plus more to taste
- Coarse salt, to taste
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 3 tablespoons crumbled cotija cheese
- 1 tablespoon toasted pepitas (I like the salty ones)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, plus more to taste
Do ahead: I’d expected this salad not to keep at all but we found it just fine (with no watery run-off) after 2 hours in the fridge. I wouldn’t keep it assembled too much longer, though. You don’t want the salt to draw the juices out of the fruit before you eat it, and it’s quick enough to put together at the last minute.
First published August 9, 2016 on smittenkitchen.com |
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