It’s been over a week since we returned from vacation, but I’m still not really ready to be back to our usual schedule. It is still summer after all. We escaped the Austin heat and spent a week in the mountains in Colorado where we hiked on trails under bright, sunny skies in Beaver Creek, Vail, and Breckenridge. This wasn’t really a food-focused trip, but a few meals were definitely memorable. The homemade donuts at Northside Kitchen were nearly habit-forming, and we had to stop in for one last fix on our way to the airport. Another gem was found in Aspen. I highly recommend a visit to Meat and Cheese which is a gourmet shop and restaurant with very well-sourced items both to purchase and on the menu. Another meal that I keep thinking about involved a simple salad with watermelon, grilled chicken, and arugula at a spot in Avon. I love using watermelon in savory dishes, and the light, crisp, sweet chunks are perfectly refreshing summer food. Watermelon with seared haloumi, basil, and olive oil is one of my favorite salads, and watermelon with feta and olives is another. But, that salad with grilled chicken got me thinking about this recipe I knew was stored away in my files from a few years ago. In the September 2011 issue of Food and Wine, those ingredients were given a Thai spin. As soon as we got back home, I found the recipe and fired up the grill.
First, the chicken needs to be marinated while the grill is being prepped. Lemongrass is needed, and I was thrilled to have some growing again that I could use here. It was minced and mixed with canola oil, and I added some minced serrano chiles as well. The chicken was added to the oil and left to marinate for 30 to 60 minutes. After being grilled, the chicken was allowed to cool before being chopped into cubes. The watermelon was seeded and cut into cubes as well. The dressing was a simple mix of Thai chiles, lime juice, fish sauce, water, and more canola oil that was mixed and pureed in a food processor. The original recipe suggests mint and cilantro, and they would be great but I used Thai basil, purple basil, and Genovese basil instead since that's what's growing in my herb garden. I also added some frisee leaves. The herbs, frisee, and watermelon chunks were tossed with the dressing. That mixture was plated and topped with the cubed chicken. I garnished with more herbs and a chiffonade of lime leaves from my tree.
This salad is everything I want in a summer meal. It’s light but still satisfying and full of bright flavors. Lime juice and chiles are meant to be with juicy watermelon, and the flavors of the chicken and herbs pair well with it too. If vacation has to be over, at least I can still eat like it isn’t.