My family ate their watermelon and tomatoes straight—no salt. By the time I got to high school I learned that some families sprinkle salt and even pepper on watermelon and especially tomatoes. But I think it was only six years ago I tasted watermelon with salty cheese and peppery arugula. It was an appetizer. The chef cut 2-inch cubes of watermelon and scooped a hole out of the top about an inch deep. He filled it with vinaigrette-dressed baby arugula and sprinkled goat cheese on top. I thought it was so clever and unusual.
Now, thanks to Google, you can find plenty of recipes for savory watermelon salads, though I think our palates are so traditional that these contrastive salty/sweet salads continue to surprise and delight.
Just this morning I was thumbing through the current issue of Edible Wasatch and found a recipe for watermelon and feta salad, with jalapeño slivers and marjoram leaves. Finding the recipe further substantiated my thought that this is a good week for watermelon and feta salad; I bought feta cheese at Costco last week so of course I have plenty, I bet the melon growers from Hurricane are at the Park City Farmer’s Market tomorrow, and Thai basil is in our Ranui Garden’s CSAbox today. Mint is the usual herb in watermelon salads, whether sweet or savory. But, remembering that marjoram and basil are part of the mint family, why not Thai basil, which has a stronger anise note than the more familiar Italian sweet basil?
4 cups seedless watermelon cubes, or chunks with seeds removed
1 cup crumbled good quality feta cheese
½ cup Thai basil finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed orange juice
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Arugula leaves, stems removed or Ranui Gardens salad greens
Put the watermelon, feta cheese and ribbons of the Thai basil in a bowl. Make a vinaigrette dressing by whisking the orange juice, rice wine vinegar, olive oil, onion, salt and pepper together. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Chill.
To serve, make a bed of arugula or lettuce on individual plates and mound about 1 cup of the watermelon salad in the center. Grind black pepper over the top.