Last week I received an email from a friend asking if I had a favorite recipe featuring watermelon. I had to admit that I didn't. When I eat watermelon, I usually just enjoy a big, drippy slice...it doesn't need much else. In my response though I mentioned that a very popular way to serve it was in a Greek-style salad with feta and mint and that a Google search should turn up several recipes.
This whole exchange made me hungry for a watermelon salad. So when I was confronted by a huge display of watermelons at the farmers' market on Saturday I naturally bought one. Today's post is one of the things I did with it...my version of the aforementioned popular and delicious salad.
As is occasionally the case, I don't really have an exact recipe to share. The truth is, you don't need one....just prepare all of your individual ingredients and then begin layering them on individual plates—or one large platter—in amounts that look good to you. Because I am aware that some readers are uncomfortable attempting a recipe without some kind of guidelines for quantities, I will at least give an estimate for per person quantities.
For the watermelon, if you can get your hands on a seedless variety, your work will be easier. My watermelon—though juicy and sweet—had lots of seeds. Removing them is a bit tedious, but worth it for a salad. To prepare the watermelon, cut it into manageable wedges. Your eventual goal is 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick triangular shaped pieces. I had a football shaped watermelon that weighed about 10 pounds—I cut it in half cross-wise and then cut each half in quarters lengthwise. I then cut thin (1/4– to 1/3-inch thick) cross-wise slices, removed the rind and halved and seeded these slices.
You should cut your watermelon in whatever way makes sense to you, given its original shape and size. For each person figure about 3/4 of a pound of untrimmed watermelon. After trimming, the weight of the flesh per person will be about 6 oz.
The avocado and feta should also be prepared in 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick slices. After halving, pitting and peeling the avocado, slice it either lengthwise or crosswise. I did the latter since it made the slices of avocado similar in size to the slices of watermelon. Use half an avocado per person. For the feta, simply slice it (purchase feta in blocks in brine...not in crumbles...feta in brine tastes better and will keep longer) and break the slices into random-sized chunks. Weigh out about 1 1/2 oz. per person.
The remaining ingredients are pitted Kalamata olives, red onion and fresh mint. The olives should be halved lengthwise. I used 5 or 6 large olives per person. The red onion, should be sliced very thinly (use a mandolin), rinsed under cold running water and blotted dry. The quantity of onion is completely up to you. I purchase beautiful tiny red onions (about 2 oz. each) at my farmers' market—they are perfect for a small household. When I made our salads I only used half of one for two of us. Typically I find raw onion to be overpowering, so I don't use much. But the onion added really nice crunch and flavor to this salad and I would not hesitate to use them with a heavier hand.
Just as with the onion, the quantity of mint is up to you. I love mint—and it is particularly refreshing in this salad—so I used a lot. If the leaves are large, tear them into smaller pieces or stack them and cut them into a wide chiffonade. If the leaves are tiny and delicate, just use them as they are.
To pull it all together, the salad needs a tangy vinaigrette. The first time I made it I made a simple vinaigrette with 1/2 T. red wine vinegar, 1/4 t. honey and 1 1/2 T. olive oil (for two salads). On another occasion I used a shallot-less version of the vinaigrette I use on my Chicken salad with Cantaloupe, Arugula, Feta and Mint. Both were good, but I think the salad would be just as good with a simple drizzle of olive oil followed by a drizzle of red wine vinegar or a generous squeeze of lemon. The ease of dressing it this last way is much more in keeping with the casual nature of this salad.
To serve the salad, build it on individual plates or on one large platter. First, place half of the watermelon on the plate. Follow this with half the avocado, half the cheese, and half of the onions, olives and mint. Season with salt & pepper and drizzle with some of the vinaigrette. Repeat with all of the elements and serve.
Update 9/25/2012: I just ran across an extraordinarily beautiful version of this salad on a friend's pinterest board. I saw it earlier this summer (on another pinterest board...before I wrote this post)--but didn't bother to look for the original post when I prepared my salad (I just remembered the image of the beautiful green of the avocado against the pink of the watermelon flesh). Anyway I'm very glad I ran across it again so I can share the link. It is a really lovely salad...it will inspire you too!