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Cucumber and Watermelon Salad with Pickled Onions – aka My New Favorite Burger Topping

Mariel here. So judging by the calendar, this past weekend marked your 437th “woo summer 2011!” backyard BBQ. I have a feeling I could extrude pure mayonnaise from your arteries or butter a dinner roll with your forehead. Let’s lighten things up, shall we? August seems to herald the unofficial crescendo of gloopy pasta salads and if a well-intentioned dinner host tries to glob one more lubed macaroni on my plate, I’m gonna make her eat the whole mess of it.

As you can probably tell, I’ve grown a bit tired of the usual barbecue bells & whistles. I’m just not feeling it right now. So in an effort to try and put some crunch back in the backyard, I visited a local farm stand in Long Island and picked up some fresh cukes and juicy aguamelon. That’s watermelon, in English. To add a little zing, I decided to try my hand at pickling onions to see if that might spruce things up a bit (it did). If you’ve never pickled before (which I hadn’t), it’s so simple, like Lenny & Carl simple, so  don’t be intimidated. The only annoying thing is that you really need to wait at least an hour for the pickling spices to work their magic. But whatever, go read a book.

The salad is brilliant and just what the (heart) doctor ordered. It’s crisp, crunchy and oh-so-fresh. Initially I dove in head first and ate it unadorned, but then I realized, as an unused hamburger patty sat staring me in the face, that this might actually make a great quasi-condiment. So in a moment of divine inspiration, I slopped it atop my burg.

Please try it.

I’ve never, in my entire life, eaten a burger without ketchup (seriously), but this delicious concoction blew the elastic right off my mom jeans. I am begging you to spare your friends’ waistlines and whip up this snappy little salad at your next hometown ho-down. All the flavor, none of the fat. I’m a regular infomercial.

Mary Anne here. I DO NOT have elastic in my jeans! I gave those up, along with pleats, sometime in the late ’80’s. I think it’s my own mom’s jeans Mariel is thinking of (sorry Mom, Mariel made me do this!)

Cucumber and Watermelon Salad with Pickled Onions
Serves 4 as a salad

Ingredients for Pickled Onions:
1 medium sweet onion, sliced into thin rings – $1.09
¾-cup white vinegar – stock
3 Tablespoons sugar – stock
5 cardamom seeds – stock
5 whole cloves – stock
1 bay leaf – stock
Pinch of red pepper flakes – stock
Pinch of salt – stock

Ingredients for Salad:
3½-4 cups watermelon, chopped – $2.99
1 large cucumber, sliced or chopped – $0.99
2 Tablespoons of fresh cilantro, diced finely (optional) – $0.89
¼-cup peanuts, chopped coarsely – $3.79
4 Tablespoons of pickling brine (make above)
½-cup of pickled onions, roughly chopped (make above)
Grand total assuming well-stocked kitchen: $9.75
Cost per serving: $2.43

Directions for Pickled Onions:
1. In a small saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt and all the seasonings until boiling. Add the onion slices and lower heat, simmer for 30 seconds.

2. Remove from heat and cool completely.

3. Once cool, transfer the onions and brine to a sealable jar and refrigerate for at least an hour before adding to the cucumber salad. They’ll keep for about a month in the fridge.

Directions for Cucumber and Watermelon Salad:
1. Chop or dice all ingredients, as directed above. Combine the cucumber, watermelon, cilantro (if desired), ½-cup of pickled onions and 4 tablespoons of pickling brine in a large plastic or glass bowl.

2. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes before serving, the pickling juices need to work their magic on all the new ingredients…

3. When you’re ready to eat, garnish with the chopped peanuts.