The combination of sweet watermelon and salty feta might seem strange at first blush, but it is very common in Israel (where I first encountered it) and the Mediterranean. Apparently watermelon originated in the Nile valley and with a greater-than-90% water content, it is ubiquitous in the sweltering summer heat. Given the area's proclivity for salty semi-firm yet crumbly cheese, this experimental combination seems inevitable. Once tried, the desire to repeat the experiment is nothing short of addictive. The juxtaposition of textures – the creamy saltiness of the feta, the crisp sweet chill of the watermelon – play off one another nicely. I added the crunch of fresh-from-the-farm grape tomatoes (the only thing available from my CSA due to this year's blight) and added some basil from my windowsill garden to keep the salad on the savory side. There are so many variations and I’ve made a bunch of suggestions at the end. This salad is best served cold; make sure to add the dressing no more than 20 minutes before serving, as you don’t want the watermelon to lose its turgor. The recipe can be easily multiplied. —zahavah
spinach, lettuce or other greens
grape or cherry tomatoes
feta (ideally goat milk; or bulgarian cheese)
Assemble salad: Rinse and spin the spinach or greens and rip into bite-sized pieces. Quarter the tomatoes. Cut the watermelon into ~1-inch cubes. Crumble feta over the salad.
Make dressing: Chiffonade the basil and put into a small bottle (I use an empty spice container). The dressing is a standard vinaigrette (typically 3:1 oil: vinegar) that’s just a tiny bit lighter on oil – add oil, vinegar, a few grinds of pepper and a pinch of salt. Shake up to emulsify. Dip a green leaf into dressing to taste for salt and adjust seasoning for taste.
Chill salad until ready to serve. Dress ~ 15-20 minutes before serving (if you dress too early, the watermelon will weep).
This is such a versatile salad and there are so many variations you can play around with:
** Shake up the greens: mild greens work here as do those that are a bit bitter (like arugula)
** Add more salt with capers or olives
** Add some bite with thinly sliced or chopped red onions (I like to quick pickle them in a little white vinegar to cut some of the raw onion’s sharpness) or spring onion
** Use a different acid in the dressing: instead of white wine vinegar, use a sweet balsamic or lime or lemon juice
** Try different herbs: mint, cilantro instead of basil
** Add some heat to the dressing with peppers