“I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin vines and ‘simblins;’ I know how to tell when its ripe without ‘plugging’ it; I know how inviting it looks when its cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor-space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front of the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can see the halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks, behind a yard long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels for I have been there. I know the watermelon which has been honestly come by and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best.”
-Mark Twain, Autobiography
This is one of those dishes that you either love, or are too afraid to try. Sometimes when people get used to eating or even thinking about a food a certain way, it becomes difficult to think of it any other way. Many of us grew up with watermelon as a refreshing summer treat that was sweet and often served on its own or with other sweet fruits. The first time I ever tried it differently was on a catering job where we served cubes of watermelon with an exceptional red wine vinegar and cracked black pepper. I thought the chef was crazy. I thought it sounded gross, but I was young and stupid then, and one taste changed my views and I was instantly reaching for another.
Choose your watermelon wisely, for an unripe, unseeded melon is bound to lead to a flavorless and uninspiring dish. It’s difficult to find seeded watermelon these days, but the flavor is far superior to the seedless varieties, despite the extra work. You can get good, flavorful seedless melons too, you just need to know what you’re looking for. You know those watermelons that look perfect? Well, they’re not. A perfectly shaped and uniformly green melon was likely picked a couple of days or weeks too early. A good, ripe melon will have a flat, yellowish side where the melon ripened on the ground and became soft enough to flatten where it sat on the ground. I’ve heard of people rapping on the side of the melon with their knuckles and judging by sound, but I usually go with my method as it seems a bit easier and more fool-proof.
- 1/2 fresh watermelon
- 1 block feta
- 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- Red wine vinegar (try to find a nice strong vinegar with high acidity)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fresh cracked black pepper
1. Though I normally dress salads and toss to coat, I like to assemble this dish and drizzle the vinegar and olive oil over the top instead.
2. Cut the watermelon in half and trim the sides so you have a straight-edged square or rectangle of melon. Set aside the scraps to be eaten as is. Cut the square/rectangle of melon into even, bite-sized squares and place in a wide bowl.
3. Cut the feta into cubes about half the size of the watermelon and sprinkle over the watermelon.
4. Halve the olives and add to the salad.
5. Roughly chop a few sprigs worth of mint leaves and add to the mix.
6. Season the dish with a small amount of coarse ground black pepper (additional salt should not be needed thanks to the olives and feta) and drizzle about a quarter cup of vinegar and olive oil over the salad just before serving.
7. Taste the salad to make sure the balance is right. The sweetness of the watermelon should be balanced with the tanginess of the vinegar and the brine of the olives. The feta should round out the dish by adding a creamy foil to the sharpness of the vinegar and olives. The mint should just taste good
8. Enjoy as part of a BBQ or as a cool snack on a hot day. Most of the salad can be assembled a few hours ahead of time, just adding the mint, pepper, vinegar and olive oil when ready.