This is a perfect summertime dish to start a lunch or dinner. The heat of the serrano chiles contrasts with the cool, refreshing melon and the mint, lime and salty proscuitto add interesting counterpoints.
1/3 cup sugar or honey
1/4 cup white wine or water
1 teaspoon seeded and minced serrano chiles or to taste
1 tablespoon each finely diced red and yellow bell peppers
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
2 large honeydew, cantaloupe, crane or other ripe melon
8 fresh ripe figs, fanned
8 paper thin slices of proscuitto or other salumi of your choice
Garnish: Edible flower petals such as nasturtium, borage and or day lilly, if desired
In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and wine and over moderate heat stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the chiles and peppers and cool. Stir in the lime juice and mint. Syrup can be stored covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.
To serve: Cut melons in half and remove seeds. Cut into decorative shapes and arrange attractively on chilled plates. Spoon chile syrup over melon and arrange figs and proscuitto, if using attractively around. Sprinkle with edible flower petals.
Recommended wine: An aromatic white wine with a little residual sugar and no oak such as Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Viognier orMuscat, would be a great match for this salad on a warm summer day.
A note on Chile heat: There is a way to measure the heat level in chiles. Its called the Scoville Scale and was developed back at the turn of the last century by W.L. Scoville. His method involved extraction of the heat elements in chiles known as capsaicinoids, which were then diluted to a point where they were barely detectable. For example, if a gram of chile extract had to be diluted in 40,000ml of water and alcohol to be barely perceptible then that chile was rated at 40,000 Scoville heat units. Although this is not a precise test, since each of us has some differences in sensitivity to chiles, it does give a good basic estimate.
Here are some Scoville heat ratings for various chiles:
- Bell Peppers 0
- Anaheims 800-1200
- Poblanos 800-1200
- Jalapenos 8000-10,000
- Serranos 10,000-18,000
- Japanese (Hontaka) 25,000-40,000
- Thai types 40,000-60,000
- Pure Capsaicin* 1million
* Capsaicin is one of the compounds in the capsaicinoid family and is thought to be the most potent of the heat elements in chiles.
John Ash © 1994