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Sweet, Spicy, Exotic, Oh My!

Exploring new flavors has always been an exciting adventure to me. The variety of ingredients of the world are astounding!  And various preparation methods only adds more uniqueness. If I had my druthers, I would travel to every region of every country and sample everything from the street foods to the temples of haute cuisine!


I wasn’t always this way, my early youth was spent consuming rather generic mid-western food stuffs… and that did not begin to change until I was eleven or so. From then on out I was ravenous to try just about anything! I am utterly amazed by folks whose palate is staid and unexplored, they just do not know what they are missing.


My first experience with the flavors of Thailand was in the early 1980’s. I was the assistant director of a very well respected art gallery in Orlando, Florida. The Eitharong Gallery was owned by Ummarid Eitharong, who had moved to the United States and became an award winning artist. Near the downtown gallery there was a typical Chinese restaurant, where I had been before, but “Tony” (Ummarid’s American name) knew the chef who was also Thai.


The now ubiquitous Thai restaurants had yet to invade the landscape, and I had no idea of what we were going to have. Tony ordered Tom Yum and a Whole Red Snapper with Black Bean Sauce. I found the latter totally unimaginable - picturing Cuban Black Bean Soup poured over a pink fish!


The Tom Yum is still a favorite soup of mine, slightly sour with bitter notes, that I find quite soothing. I can still see the Red Snapper being brought to the table - so fresh and beautiful, and the black beans were nothing I could have dreamed of! Its flavor, a bit pungent, a little salty, that clung delicately to the crispy skinned fish.


To awaken and surprise your palate this summer, here is a salad that is far from boring. Its taste is bright with the dressing playing really well with the sweet summer melon. It is a celebration of uniqueness!


Thai Chicken and Watermelon Salad

Active Time: 30 minutes, Total time: 1 hour, Serves: 4


INGREDIENTS

2 stalks of fresh lemongrass, pale inner core only, minced

¼ vegetable oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 ½ lbs skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, butterflied

2 Thai chiles, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 tbls light brown sugar

3 tbls fresh lime juice

3 tbls Asian fish sauce

2 tbls of water

2 ½ lbs seedless watermelon, cut into circles of different sizes

¼ cup each of chopped cilantro and mint


HOW TO PREPARE

In a bowl, combine the lemongrass, oil, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Let marinate at room temperature for thirty minutes.


In a heavy skillet with a little oil added, saute the chicken, turning as needed, until done and browned, about six minutes. Remove from pan and let cool, then shred or cut into ½ inch dice.


In a mini food processor, combine the chiles, garlic, brown sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and water and pulse until chiles and garlic are finely chopped.


Pour half the dressing over the cooled chicken, and toss to coat.


Arrange watermelon circles on an individual salad plate, artistically top with the chicken and drizzle remaining dressing. Top with chopped cilantro and mint.


Enjoy with a lively rosé!



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Created by Gustavo A. Mendoza. All rights reserved.

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