Nothing screams summer like ice-cold watermelon on a blistering hot day. Tonight I’m making my favorite Mediterranean salad that pairs sweet watermelon with mild, salty feta cheese, black olives, thin slices of purple onion, and a generous sprinkling of freshly chopped mint. A simple dressing of fresh lime juice and extra virgin olive oil tops it all off. It’s at once sophisticated, easy to assemble and delicious. And if you’re feeling creative, you can halve and hollow out several small, round watermelons and slice the bottom off to stabilize them on a plate. Fill each with salad and decorate with a mint sprig. It’s pure summer on a plate.
As simple as this salad is, it requires best-quality ingredients, especially a perfectly ripe watermelon. I don’t know about you but searching though huge bins of these beauties at the market always overwhelmed me in the past. After all, how was I supposed to know which ones were ripe? There was no scent, and color offered no clues. I hate to tell you how many times I ended up with a mediocre pinky-white, flavorless melon. Then I learned the secret of selection.
First be brave; walk right up to the bin and look for a couple of potential favorites. Reject anything that is damaged or has soft spots.
Now put both hands on one, like you’re going to give it a shoulder massage. If it “gives” or springs back slightly, it’s ready.
But let’s be doubly sure. Pick it up and hold the watermelon in one hand and run your thumbnail across the top of the melon. If the green “peels” slightly, it is ripe. This is because the rind starts breaking down when it is ripe and beyond. A “green” or unripe watermelon will not peel when scratched.
Back in the kitchen, I grab a—sharp—chef’s knife and cut into the watermelon. Oh the thrill when I see that it’s a beautifully ripe, pinky-red melon absolutely perfect for my salad. Cutting watermelons is easy when you know this technique:
1. Place the watermelon on its side and slice away the top and the bottom.
2. Stand the melon upright and halve it from top to bottom. Depending on how large the watermelon is, you may find it easier to complete one side first and then the other.
3. Cut each half into equal lengthwise sections.
4. Run the knife between the rind and the flesh from end to end.
5. Slice downward to the rind in equal segments, forming slices of your desired thickness.
6. Continue cutting if needed to produce chunks or bite-sized pieces. Done.
Let me share a couple of other tips that help make this watermelon salad memorable. First, use real Kalamata olives, not the bland canned offerings. There is a difference. Next—and this is a deal breaker—use a mild feta cheese. Pass on the strongly flavored varieties as they overpower the sweetness of the watermelon.
Tonight, dinner is this simple delicious salad served by candlelight on the old garden table. Good food, lively conversation and a warm summer breeze. Life is good.