Monday, July 13, 2009

Pineapple Watermelon Avocado and Feta Salad with Basil

I spent a lot of time since I discovered the featured ingredients in this weeks battle pondering the flavor options. I decided not to do any of the standard dishes with basil and pineapple, so no pizza, fried rice, South East Asian or salsa. I briefly flirted with the idea of a basil ice cream with pineapple chunks mixed in. My boys originally loved the ice cream idea until they really heard that I said basil ice cream. Then they encouraged me to go with another idea. Even though both boys will happily eat basil right off the plant.

When my mother was still alive she used to make an excellent flank steak marinated with soy sauce, sherry and dried herbs. I have no clue what cook book that recipe was from nor do I know what the ratios are that she used. However I have been making my own variations for over 20 years now. Mine is an ever changing recipe which can change based on my current mood and what goodies I find in the fridge (there was a memorable version where I included jam that was taking up room in my fridge). When I make it I often include orange juice as one of the ingredients.

So for the first dish in battle pineapple basil I decided to make a marinated flank steak with fresh pineapple juice and basil. The only trick would be actually paying attention to and recording the ingredients and their quantities.

As an accompaniment to the steak I thought about making a green papaya salad with pineapple. However that was clearly a South East Asian inspired recipe and perhaps it is not in good form to use a blog post from a judge as a spring board. However I still liked the idea of a salad that nudges the pineapple into the savory side. So I decided on a grilled pineapple salad with feta and basil. My inspiration for this salad came from a watermelon feta salad recipe from last summers Edible Boston. I have never made it but it has been on my to try list for a while and I have really enjoyed the other recipes I have tried by its creator.

I decided to grill the pineapple to sweeten it and mellow the acidity. The original salad called for mint so I decided I would include mint with the basil in my pineapple version. When I was still talking out my ideas with another foodie friend she said I should use purple basil in the salad for looks and then let me raid her garden for the basil.

So how did the pineapple and basil dishes turn out? The flank steak was excellent, as it always is through all the permutations I have made over the years. The interesting thing was the marinade did not taste right until I added the basil. Usually I don't use either pineapple or basil in this dish but the pineapple really needed the basil to balance its acidity and sharp flavor. However I don't think the steak was any better then the other versions. Just another example of delicious flank steak.

The pineapple salad I ended up with however was just what I wanted. Although there was a small problem where I grilled the pineapple, dressed the salad and discovered that the grilled pineapple did not have the clean flavor that I wanted. To be honest I hated the taste. Happily I had not added/wasted the feta cheese yet. So at 5:30 p.m. I ran out to the store to get another pineapple, a watermelon and avocado. My neighbors who were coming over for dinner at 6 were only slightly confused to see me running off.

The end result was worth the second trip to the store and the running around crazily to get dinner on the table. The watermelon, feta and avocado all melt in your mouth but they still have different textures and ways of melting. The pineapple, the star ingredient, retains its bite and gives you something to chew and the basil really brought all the flavors together. In the final salad I did not use the mint as its inclusion also seemed off in the grilled version. The flavor was really clean and light, partially because I realized when making the grilled version that I did not want any olive oil in the dressing, only lime juice. Everyone who tried the salad loved it. For the record nobody under the age of 8 had any. But our neighbor Ada, who is 8 loved it. My children and her brother refused to even try it, that's okay, Ada ate their share.

The salad and the steak worked really wonderfully together. A nice combination of textures and flavors. I also made a potato salad that I was tempted to add basil and pineapple to. I decided that would have been overkill. My neighbors also brought over kid friendly potatoes with butter and parsley and zucchini and squash sauteed with onions. Thomas is founder and co-owner of Arethusa collective farm in the Intervale, so I consider myself lucky that they brought over a modest bowl full of zucchini instead of filling my car with 500 pounds of it. Maybe it is still early in the season for that, I must remember to keep my car locked though.

Pineapple Watermelon Avocado and Feta Salad with Basil

2 cups fresh pineapple chopped into bite sized pieces, about 1/2 to 3/4 inches
2 cups watermelon chopped into cubes about the same size as the pineapple
1 ripe Haas avocado pitted, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
1 scallion chopped (assuming the scallion is fresh use all of it, pale and dark green)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil or more to taste (use purple basil if you can get it)
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup feta crumbled

Combine all the ingredients except the feta in a serving bowl. Crumble the feta on top and serve. This salad should be served right away.

Pineapple Basil Marinated Flank Steak

1 1/2 cups fresh pineapple juice (although I am sure it would be good with frozen, but this was a competition)
1/2 cup soy sauce
3/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 Tbsp crushed garlic
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
1/4 tsp tabasco (optional, or use more if their will be no kids dining with you)
1 tsp deli mustard (dijon would also be good)
1 Tbsp packed basil
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
1 flank steak

Combine all the marinade ingredients in a blender and blend until the basil is chopped fine. You can also use a mini food processor and the basil, oil and some of the other liquids if like me you hate cleaning your blender. Place the steak and enough marinade to cover in a non reactive dish and marinate for 2 hours. Do not marinate for too long as the pineapple juice will start to break down the meat. Preheat your grill until hot, place the meat on the grill and turn it to medium high. Grill on the first side for 3 to 5 minutes, turn over and grill until the internal temperature is 120 ° to 135 °, about 3 to 5 minutes longer. Allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing thinly on the bias.

Extra marinade can be used to marinate chicken, pork or more steak. It can also be frozen for later use. Now if you will excuse me I am off to read Twilight. I borrowed it last week but I decided that a book that all my friends could not put down would have to wait until after Foodie Fights.


  1. The salad sounds positively refreshing!

  2. Thanks Green Bean, it was really delicious. Yours sounds really good as well.


  3. i love flank steak and have never marinated it with any type of juice, but this definitely looks delicious and looks like something i may have to try!

  4. I just cut up a pineapple and noticed that I have some feta in my fridge, and thought "That would be good together; I can't be the first person who's thought of it," and after a Google, I ended up with your recipe. Lovely pictures, by the way.