I fully intend to finish this essay series before the end of August because I need to make sure you still have access to good summer produce! Today we’re talking melons, but before that, let’s talk about friends and the food they cook for us.
I’ve waxed poetically about Matt’s cooking before, but his recipes remain elusive. He cooks intuitively and delightfully, which makes watching him cook quite the pleasure. We don’t really cook together any more, which would make me sad if I hadn’t decided to just accept my role as audience member when he’s in the kitchen. I think part of loving someone, especially for a long time, is accepting them: their temperament, rhythms, and habits. Matt and I do a pretty good job at this with each other. Part of how Matt operates is that when he cooks, it’s mostly a solo operation. It’s certainly possible that my small kitchen has something to do with this; it might not be as easy for him to handle the small space. My friend Amutha, who is a scientist like me, pointed out that when you work in labs as we do, you get used to sharing small spaces with people. You perfect the art of dancing around other people. It’s fitting that Amutha and I have an easy time sharing my kitchen, but Matt and I tend to segregate: he takes over the kitchen while I eat snacks at the kitchen table and occasionally play sous-chef (“Can you rinse these tomatoes?”).
The last time we had dinner together, I very slyly convinced both Matt and Amutha to cook dinner for us: a tag-team effort between two of my favorite cooks. They agreed easily; it probably helped matters that the two of them get along quite cheerfully, and we like to keep the red wine flowing in the evening. The menu was Spain-meets-India: Matt made a refreshing gazpacho packed with produce from that morning’s visit to the farmers’ market. Amutha made a channa paneer, if I may be so bold as to call it that: a heavily spiced dish of chickpeas and fried cheese, made magical with Amutha’s spice kit. Matt and I both knew we’d be eating well that night when we heard Amutha was bringing her spice kit over to my place. Oh yes. And finally, as a palate cleanser, Matt assembled plates of melon and prosciutto for the meat-eaters; for me, he swapped out the prosciutto and instead dressed the melon slices with fresh lime juice and chopped mint.
As he chopped vegetables for the gazpacho, Matt nudged me to get out my camera and document his gazpacho-making. And it was quite lovely, too, all the layers of summer vegetables, piled on top of one another in a rainbow of garden beauty. Knowing that Amutha would be making a spicy Indian dish, Matt borrowed a note from the subcontinent’s raitas and went heavy on the cucumber so the gazpacho would complement the richness of Amutha’s dish.
But the gazpacho would not have been gazpacho without a judicious handful of raw garlic and a generous pour of olive oil to give it body. We’re not talking vegetable smoothie here; we’re talking gazpacho.
The red wine must have started working by the time Amutha arrived, as I have no photographic evidence of her efforts at the stove. But I know this much: nobody cooks Indian food more deliciously than an Indian. I love watching Amutha cook, the way her hands move so gracefully through chopping, seasoning, and cooking her food. She has her own little kitchen dance, swaying from chopping board to frying pan to spice kit. And her food tastes like nothing I’ve eaten before. I mean, it tastes like Indian food, but it’s better than anything I’d had in an Indian restaurant. To say that I like it would be an understatement. I really, really, really like it.
When Amutha finished her channa paneer, the three of us sat down to dinner and had one of the loveliest evenings in recent memory. Matt and Amutha have so many little habits and preferences in common that I say they are like two peas in a pod. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that Matt would find his counterpart in an Indian woman, but it’s true and hilarious. They both prefer red wine over white, evenings to mornings, hot weather to cold, and both have a way of making everything they do look easy. They also have a shared affinity for people who are a little more outwardly emotional, people who don’t have the cool-as-a-cucumber act down pat. I find this last similarity fascinating, perhaps because it speaks more deeply to a similarity in temperament which shapes their attraction to other people.
And lucky me, they put up with my shenanigans. I am hardly cool as a cucumber most of the time, but sometimes I’m mellow as a melon. Since that evening, I’ve been preparing cantaloupe the way Matt did for me: with mint and fresh lime juice. I’ve also started adding a pinch of salt, a move inspired by the prosciutto, whose saltiness plays so well against cantaloupe’s sweetness. It’s a deeply refreshing recipe (hardly a recipe at all, really), and I thought you might enjoy it as much as I have.
Matt’s Melon with Lime and Mint
Serves 3-4 as a side dish
1 perfectly ripe cantaloupe melon
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh mint to taste
1) Chop the melon into bite-sized chunks and place in a large bowl. Chop the lime in half and squeeze some juice over the melon. Sprinkle some salt over the melon.
2) Wash, dry, and chop the mint. Sprinkle some chopped mint over the melon, then toss everything together. Serve immediately or tuck in the fridge to save for later.