This still life was requested by Liz at Zested and what a challenge it ended up being!! I had a very hard time figuring out how to work the cabbage into a recipe with the melon (not to mention stringing up the quince and cabbage for a photo!). I finally decided that although I like a bit of sweetness in a salad, the melon was a bit too sweet and by pickling it I was able to give the curtido an extra vinegary punch. It is not a traditional Spanish dish, its roots are in Latin America, but by including some typical Spanish flavors like lemon, oregano, and paprika I was able to give a Spanish feel to a fantastic dish.

Juan Sánchez Cotán, Still-life with Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber, c. 1600
oil on Canvas, 69 x 85 cm, Museum of Art, San Diego

The Spanish painter Juan Sánchez Cotán is known as a pioneer of realism working within the transition period between Mannerist and Baroque painting. He established the still life style called ‘bodegón‘ where the game is dead, the vegetables are uncooked, and the background is dark and bleak which lends a surrealist air to the work (1). Cotán’s still lifes often have fruits and vegetables hanging at different levels with the objects lit in direct sunlight against the black background. This became a hallmark of Spanish still life painting and the positioning of the melon and cucumber just within reach on the edge of the table produces a trompe l’oeil effect popular in earlier Netherlandish painting. Although they seem to be in reach, each fruit and vegetable is isolated against the dark background creating an almost geometric composition (2).

Curtido is a cousin of coleslaw and is found in El Salvador and Mexico where it varies quite a bit between the two regions. In El Salvador it takes a form that is similar to sauerkraut with pickled vegetables (in mine I am using pickled carrots and melon) including onions, cabbage, carrots and a squeeze of lemon juice. In Mexico the salad takes on more of a relish form with only pickled carrots and onion remaining and the addition of jalapeño peppers (3). I added a few chilies to the recipe below creating a conglomerate of the two dishes. Similar to coleslaw, curtido it is used as a topping on a variety of dishes. Coleslaw is popular in America where it is used as a sandwich ingredient and as a side for barbecue meals.

{Spanish Curtido with Pickled Melon}

serves 4

1/2 head of cabbage
1 small cucumber
1 carrot, pickled
1/2 of a quince
1/3 of a small melon, pickled (recipe below)
1 Spanish onion
1-2 small chilies
Lemon-Oregano dressing (recipe below)

Thinly slice all of the ingredients and add them to a bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and toss to coat. The salad tastes better when it is allowed to sit for the flavors to develop.

{Lemon-Oregano Dressing}

Juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1 c extra virgin olive oil
1 TB dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper
pinch of spicy paprika

Mix and use to dress a salad.

{Pickled Melon}

adapted from the Washington Post

1/4 c balsamic vinegar
1/4 c white wine vinegar
1 c water
1 TB honey
2 TB sugar
1 TB orange zest
1 clove
1 bay leaf
3 coriander seeds
1 pink peppercorn

1 medium honeydew melon or cantaloupe cut into cubes.

Add all of the ingredients except the melon into a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Once the liquid has begun to reduce, strain and discard the solids.

Put the melon into a nonmetal bowl and pour over the warm pickling liquid. Let sit for about 10 minutes, drain and serve.