Sunday, June 13, 2021

 

Watermelon and Feta for a refreshing summer salad

Fresh, cool, watermelon dotted with salty feta cheese sets up taste sensations that stimulate even the heat-jaded palate. Drizzle it all with lemon- and jalapeño-infused dressing and add a little arugula, and all the tastes are covered: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and chili hot. Even better, it’s beautiful!

My first experience of watermelon paired with tangy cheese was Hugh Acheson’s summer salad of local watermelon wedges interspersed with locally made goat cheese at the Five and Ten, here in Athens, Georgia. I later learned that watermelon with feta cheese is an established Greek specialty, as is feta paired with fresh figs.

But whether an “unlikely” food pairing was already thought of is beside the point. What makes a particular chef’s dish unique is the sourcing and quality of the ingredients, the subtle extra touches and the presentation.

The availability of “seedless” watermelon makes dishes with the fruit simpler to prepare and easier to eat than in the old days. I find pure olive oil heavy for dressing this salad, and use predominantly sunflower or canola oil with a little olive oil. Lemon zest and a little hot pepper infused briefly into the oil add subtlety. Either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar can supply the tartness.

The recipe serves six, either using separate salad plates or a larger platter.

3 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

3 lengthwise strips lemon zest, cut from lemon with vegetable peeler

8 thin slices jalapeño pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice or balsamic vinegar

1/8 teaspoon salt

Approximately 3 pounds “seedless” watermelon (half of a medium-small one)

Approximately 1 1/2 cups arugula, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

 

In a bowl, make dressing by combining oils, zest and pepper slices. Bruise zest and pepper with back of a spoon. Stir in lemon juice or balsamic plus salt. After 20 minutes, lift out zest and pepper with fork.

Cut off rind and slice watermelon to desired thickness: 1/4 inch for triangles, 3/4 inch for chunks. Cut either into 2-by-3 inch triangles or 3/4-inch chunks.

Place bed of arugula on salad plates or serving platter. Stack up watermelon attractively on arugula. Sprinkle crumbled feta over and between watermelon pieces. Drizzle dressing evenly over the top.

1 comment:

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