A few years ago, I was honored to host a dinner at the James Beard House in New York City. So I gathered about 10 of my favorite "grill friends" and we set about making a six-course meal using North Carolina shrimp, Alaskan salmon and prime beef — all the best ingredients to showcase our grill-centric menu.
I started the cocktail hour with a very light nibble — my signature "tumbled tomatoes" — because I didn't want the guests to fill up before dinner started.
Turned out that simple, light nibble was the star of the evening. When I went table-to-table after the meal everyone wanted the recipe for my tomatoes.
At first, I couldn't believe that everyone's favorite dish was an uncooked nibble. But the more I thought about it, I realized that it was my favorite, too! And it was a good reminder that often it is the simplest foods people love most.
I make these tomatoes every week, all year long with grape tomatoes. But I wanted to introduce you to them while you could try them with summer tomatoes.
The mixture of coarse sea salt, dehydrated garlic and herbs de Provence was made for sweet, ripe tomatoes. And the method of rinsing and "tumbling" them in the same bowl you'll serve them in is where the name came from.
They only take a few minutes to make, but the trick is making them early enough in the day to give them time to dry until the spice mixture creates a crisp dry crust on each tomato.
Because I make them so often, I make a quantity of the herb and salt rub and leave it in a salt grinder for easy access. If you fall in love with these tomatoes, I suggest you do the same and once the spice mixture is made, it will only take a minute to get them started.
I love doing unexpected things with common ingredients and that night I also made a refreshing grilled watermelon salad that is a welcome change from eating watermelon for dessert.
I especially love serving this salad because the color is so beautiful on the plate and it always gets a smile. Serve the salad with grilled lamb chops or a great lamb burger for a real end-of-summer treat!
Start to finish: 10 minutes (plus chilling)
1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon dehydrated garlic
2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
In a salt grinder or using a mortar and pestle, grind or pulverize the herbs de Provence, salt and garlic. If you don't have either a grinder or mortar and pestle, the ingredients also can be simple mixed together. Set aside.
Wash the tomatoes in cold water, then remove all excess water, but do not dry. In a large serving bowl, toss the tomatoes with the herb mixture until they are evenly coated.
Refrigerate the bowl, uncovered, until all water is evaporated, at least 3 hours and up to overnight. Toss or "tumble" the tomatoes in the bowl occasionally until the herb and salt mixture has formed a crust on the tomatoes. Serve chilled.
GRILLED WATERMELON SALAD WITH SOUR ORANGE AND MINT DRESSING
I generally use an outdoor grill, but this salad also can be made on an indoor grill pan.
Start to finish: 15 minutes
1 small red or yellow watermelon, preferably seedless (about 3 to 4 pounds and not too ripe)
Extra-virgin olive oil, for grilling and dressing the salad
Juice of 3 limes
Juice of 1 to 2 large navel oranges
Sea or kosher salt
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Small bunch fresh mint leaves, chopped (reserving 6 to 8 sprigs for garnish)
Fleur de sel or coarse sea salt, such as Maldon sea salt
1/2 cup crumbled feta or goat cheese (optional)
Heat a grill or grill pan to medium-low.
Cut the watermelon in half lengthwise, then cut each half in half so that you have 4 long triangular pieces. Cut these pieces into 2-inch-thick slices so you have small wedge-shaped slices. How you slice it is mainly for looks, so as long as you have 2-inch thick slices, any shape if fine. Brush the watermelon lightly with olive oil and set aside until ready to grill.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. In a small bowl, combine the lime and orange juices. Taste. If it is too tart, add more orange juice. It should taste like a "sour" orange. Add a pinch of salt and cayenne and whisk continually while adding oil in a thin stream. Whisk until well mixed (emulsified). Taste and adjust the oil and salt to taste. Add in mint and set aside.
Just before serving, place the oiled watermelon slices directly on a very clean cooking grate. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until marked and just warmed through but still crunchy. Transfer to a clean platter.
When ready to serve, place grilled watermelon pieces on a large platter or divide among individual plates. Drizzle with the dressing. Sprinkle with an additional pinch of cayenne and the fleur de sel. Add the crumbled cheese, if using, and serve immediately garnished with mint sprigs.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."