To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist -- the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one's vinegar.
~ Oscar Wilde
I was so looking forward to this week's French Fridays with Dorie's recipe. That was, until I went looking for the ingredients and realised there was absolutely no fresh strawberries on the shelves anywhere. It was a repeat of the roasted rhubarb episode of last week... the MIA ingredient this time being strawberries due to it being out-of-season over here :-(.
No matter, I got the tomatoes, I got the mozarella and I even managed to get the fresh basil. All that was left was a suitable substitute for strawberries. Now if you were lucky enough to procure strawberries where you're at, then I was equally lucky to be able to get my hands on dragonfruit, of the red-fleshed variety, at that. As an aside, dragonfruit is also sold widely in France mainly due to the influence of the large Asian communities (especially Vietnamese) residing in its cities. So I guess my version of Dorie's summer salad is not totally out of the context of her cookbook, Around My French Table (well, not when you consider that Cola and Jam Spare Ribs have made it in there too!).
Hollowed out tomato-halves and mozarella cut into flower shapes
If you've ever munched on dragonfruit, or pitaya, you would know that the juicy flesh has a very similar texture to sliced ripe strawberries (or even kiwi). It even sports a multitude of seeds, for crying out loud! However, it tastes on the side of blandness, not so sweet yet not sour, a bit like strawberries that have been picked a little too early. Hence my mind reasoned, what better fruit to mimic strawberries in this week's salad than dragonfruit?
Just as Dorie prescribed in Around My French Table, I thought cherry tomatoes would go perfectly with the dragonfruit balls I fashioned with a handy melon baller. Alas, the ones sold at the store looked pretty dire so I gave them a pass and settled for regular tomatoes instead. And I was glad I did for when it came to plating the dish, the tomatoes did extra-duty as bowls for the dragonfruit balls. I just split the tomatoes in half, scooped out the core with a melon baller and reserved the flesh for the "sides" to the salad. I then cut some mozarella into cubes and mixed these into the tomato flesh before sprinkling chopped basil over the top. I thought this juicy sides eloquently balanced the other side of the plate that held the dragonfruit and tomato shells.
If you thought my basil looked like the shade of dead leaves, it's not your monitor or pray, your eyes. Those are purple basil leaves. My mother gave me two small pots to add to my happy but microscopic herb garden (it only contains basil, rosemary, oregano and chives), and they add color to the patch. The flavor of purple basil is also more intense than the regular variety so I only needed to use a few leaves and that was enough.
Diva D came into the kitchen while I was in the midst of photographing, and being as obsessed with all things Japanese as she was, her comment about my salad was that it looked "bento-ish". And so it did, thanks in part to the flower-shaped mozarella (cut out with cookie cutters) and those fushia pink balls of fruit. Oh well, bento is supposed to be an art form, isn't it? I guess I could've done worse ;-).
I finished off the dish with a dash of olive oil, balsalmic vinegar and a sprinking of freshly crushed peppercorns. I shall declare this as the loveliest fruit salad I have had in a while. The overall taste was neither completely sweet nor completely savory, but was suspended somewhere in between. Perfectly refreshing for a hot day!
For more magical variations of this salad, check out our online cooking group at French Fridays with Dorie here.