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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Monday, February 13, 2006

Fetta Watermelon salad

A relatively old photo, this. This was my (now traditional) Christmas night salad, which we serve alongside lots of fresh oysters, prawns and smoked salmon, and cold ham, turkey and other leftovers. Christmas day this time was a pleasant, not-too-hot sunny day and we went out for a big lunch, so in keeping with tradition, our dinner that night was served late and was light and salady.
I first heard of this salad when I was working at a school a few years back. The majority of the teachers were big foodies and the school library had an enviable collection of the latest cookbooks - mainly for the teachers' benefit! This particular recipe comes from Nigella's Forever Summer, but variations are found all over the place. One teacher commented that she made this particular salad for friends and that it was amazingly good. The rest of us went "huh, really???", and thought it a bit too weird for us.

But I tried it a few months later, and it really is good. In fact, I'd go so far to say that I love the combination; the salty fetta works really well with the sweet, icy watermelon and then the piles of fresh coriander and mint provde flavour and bulk. The lime juice dressing just tops it off perfectly. In fact, I'm mostly responsible for polishing off that entire platter on my own. By that time of Christmas day it's about all I can cope with, and it's perfect when you have a few twinges of hunger but really can't cope with anything heavier. There's a very good reason why it's such a popular combination in the middle-east. I believe the watermelon & fetta combo manifests itself in many salady dishes in that area. Perfect for summer. Do try it.
Read on for the recipe:

Watermelon, Feta and Black Olive Salad
from Forever Summer.
"As improbable as it might sound, this combination is utterly fantastic, both savoury and refreshing at the same time."

1 small red onion
2-4 limes, depending on juiciness
1.5 kg (3.5 pounds) sweet, ripe watermelon
250g (9 oz) feta cheese
bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
bunch fresh mint, chopped
3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
100g (4 oz. 1/2 cup) pitted black olives
black pepper

Peel and halve the red onion and cut into very fine half-moons and put in a small bowl to steep with the lime juice, to bring out the transparent pinkness in the onions and diminish their rasp. Two limes' worth should do it, but you can find the fruits disappointingly dried up and barren when you cut them in half, in which case add more.

Remove the rind and pips from the watermelon, and cut into approximately 4cm triangular chunks, if that makes sense (maths is not my strong point). Cut the feta into similar sized pieces and put them both into a large, wide shallow bowl. Tear off sprigs of parsley so that it is used like a salad leaf, rather than a garnish, and add to the bowl along with the chopped mint.

Tip the now glowingly puce onions, along with their pink juices over the salad in the bowl, add the oil and olives, then using your hands toss the salad very gently so that the feta and melon don't lose their shape. Add a good grinding of black pepper and taste to see whether the dressing needs more lime. Hava Negila! The taste of Tel Aviv Sunshine!

Serves 8

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