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Gourmet Dining Chez Oleszek (with recipes!)

I was so astounded by the beautiful meals that our friend Janet concocted while we were in Fairfax, Virginia last month that some of the first pictures I took on this trip were of her dinner table, much to Janet’s amusement.

Here’s some ocular proof of our fine dining adventures, along with two of Janet’s recipe for light and simple summer dishes that should tempt even the weakest appetite on hot and muggy days: Watermelon with Orange Oil and Smoked Fish with Cucumber “Noodles.

Watermelon with Orange Oil

Janet enjoyed this savory watermelon dish in a DC restaurant and replicated it at home sans recipe.

  • Watermelon
  • Fresh basil
  • Orange oil (or meyer lemon oil)
  1. Cut watermelon into cubes. Place in serving bowl.
  2. Cut basil in strips. Sprinkle over watermelon.
  3. Drizzle watermelon lightly with oil.
  4. Serve.

This light and refreshing salad offers a surprising combination of flavours. I liked a little salt on mine to bring out the savoury side of the dish, but don’t add salt during the preparation or you’ll draw the liquid out of the melon. The splash of red also brightens up your dinner table!

I can see this recipe being a big hit at my mom and dad’s cabin. I’m going to make a wild guess that they can probably pick up a 3-oz or so bottle of orange oil at Kelowna’s Mediterranean Market.

Smoked Fish with Cucumber “Noodles
From the July 2008 edition of Gourmet Magazine.

  • 1/2 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp bottled white horseradish
  • 1 3/4 tsp grainy mustard
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 seedless cucumber, peeled and halved crosswise
  • 1/4 large sweet onion
  • 7 to 8 oz. hot smoked salmon, mackerel, or trout
  1. Whisk together yogurt, horseradish, mustard, and lemon juice. Season with 1/4 tsp. salt.
  2. Cut thin ribbons of cucumber with slicer (mandoline style), then very thinly slice onion. [Note that Janet cut the cucumber into ribbons with a vegetable peeler and this worked out perfectly.] Toss with half of yogurt sauce.
  3. Discard skin from fish and break fish into large flakes. Arrange fish on cucumber-onion mixture and serve with remaining sauce.

To make a vegetarian version, substitute strips of smoked tofu or atsuage (deep-fried tofu). To make a vegan version, substitute non-dairy yogurt for the Greek-style yogurt; you may want to drain non-dairy yogurt through a coffee filter first to make it thicker.

I really loved how the cucumber ribbons turned out, and when I have a kitchen again (whenever that might be), I look forward to experimenting with substituting cucumber for noodles in different kinds of cold pasta salads.

. . .

If my mom or any of our foodie friends (and that means you, Kathy!) or other readers try out these recipes, I’d love to know how the dishes turn out and what you think.

And now when we say that we were held hostage and force-fed gourmet food, you’ll know exactly what we mean.

Update: We have sent this recipe in to No Croutons Required, the soup and salad recipe carnival. This month’s edition, hosted by Tinned Tomatoes, is all about recipes that incorporate fruit.

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6 comments

1 Ian Welsh { 08.12.08 at 6:40 pm }

Both sound good, though cucumber and watermelon are things I like so much I tend to just eat them straight. Indeed, putting something on/with watermelon verges on sacrilege. :)

2 Kathy Maister { 08.13.08 at 8:20 am }

Hi Shaula! I have not turned on my computer for quite a while as we have been on holiday (finally!) in Denmark. Today is catch up day and I have only just realized that you are very close to Boston! If you are up to navigating your way through the city, we would LOVE to see!

3 Kathy Maister { 08.13.08 at 8:34 am }

Me again! (I meant to say, we would love to see YOU)

Watermelon seems to be turning up in all sorts of unusual places. Recently I tried it with feta cheese and fresh basil and it was a delicious combination. The bite of lobster served over a thin square slice of watermelon with a few drops of Pernod was to die for! I think it is time for the watermelon to be elevated from just picnic food status, to a very versatile fruit! (Of course that would probably mean no seed spitting contests!) :)

4 Shaula { 08.14.08 at 10:36 am }

Ian: I’m sure there is food I consider sacrilegious to adulterate, but I can’t think off hand what they would be. I’m still chewing on that one; let me get back to you.

I don’t have a strong appetite most of the time anyway, and in the hot and humid weather of Virginia’s summers I lose my appetite completely. (There are two great terms for this in Japanese, incidentally: mushi-atsui means “hot, humid weather,” and natsu-bate (pronounced nah-tsu-bah-teh) means “summer burn out;” the Japanese had me all figured out.) Finding ways to take light, hydrating foods like cucumber and watermelon, and keep them appealing and interesting after weeks of heat goes a LONG way to keeping me fed. In that regard, these kinds of recipes are a real boon for me!

Kathy: welcome home from Denmark! Can we look forward to reading about any Danish foods from your trip at StartCooking?

We will definitely make sure we coordinate with you in the fall, and we’re really looking forward to seeing you and David.

I loved the StartCooking post about cooking with melons. I remember those square watermelons from Japan, which back in the early 90′s would sell for as much as $60 each. People buy them to give as a VERY high prestige gift, and because they are so expensive, everyone is afraid to eat them! So they get re-gifted (which is perfectly kosher in Japan) up to about 6 times; then they typically sit for awhile on someone’s grandma’s butsudan, the household Buddhist altar, and once it has done its time as an altar offering, the lucky household finally gets to eat it!

I was a guest of a friend-of-a-friend at a barbecue on a private island in Japan once, where the unfathomably rich hosts brought several huge watermelons, all perfectly round, and put them in the sand for the children to bust open with big sticks like pinatas! It would be almost like using a Fabergé Egg as a pinata–I almost had heart failure! They also grilled LIVE seafood on the barbecue–it was all a little exotic and over the top for my mundane peasant aesthetics!

And here’s another watermelon recipe that both of you might be able to appreciate, from the deli at Ellwood Thompson, the really wonderful indie natural foods market in Richmond:

Red White and Blue Summer Salad

1. Cut watermelon in cubes.
2. Peel and cut jicama root in strips.
3. Wash and stem blueberries.
4. Combine in roughly equal proportions or to taste, and serve.

It looks gorgeous, the combination of flavours tastes surprisingly good (and interesting!), and it might even pass Ian’s Watermelon Purity Standard ™.

Plus, if you’re entertaining on the 4th of July, or any other red-white-and-blue themed event, it is a great way to achieve a challenging colour combination, too.

And don’t worry: no matter how high-falutin’ watermelon gets, I will always be up for seed spitting contests!

5 holler { 09.20.08 at 12:54 pm }

Lovely salad Shaula! I like the addition of orange oil. I haven’t tried it before, but I will be looking out for it now. Thank you for submitting this as your entry to No Croutons Required. The Line-up and voting poll will be posted tomorrow over at Tinned Tomatoes.

6 Shaula { 09.28.08 at 9:46 pm }

Thank you for including us, holler. And I hope you manage to find some orange oil and try out the recipe before watermelon goes out of season!

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1 Recipes - Carnival of the Recipes - Southwestern Edition at East Valley Living | Phoenix Arizona Real Estate Local News and Business Directory { 08.18.08 at 9:13 pm }

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2 Moments of Fame « Funny about Money { 08.19.08 at 3:17 pm }

[...] Carnival is up at Life on Both Sides of the Pond. This carnival gets better and better. Check out these two AMAZING recipes offered by Your Mileage May Vary, one for a gorgeous watermelon (!) salad and one for a to-die-for [...]

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