Thursday, August 30, 2012

Melon with Lime, Feta and Mint


Jay and I just spent a glorious week in Nantucket. The best souvenir that we brought back was our newly-kindled love of the Dark and Stormy – Bermuda's signature cocktail comprised of dark rum, spicy ginger beer and a squeeze of lime.


The second best was the inspiration for this salad, which we sampled at a beach party. Feta and melon sound like two things that should not go together, and yet they work shockingly well. I went back for thirds.


When we received a melon in our box this week, I put off using it, as melons are not my favorite fruit, to say the least. First of all, you can't bake with a melon. (Ditto for kiwi, and upside-down cake is, in my opinion, the pineapple's only saving grace.) A ripe melon at the peak of its season smells intoxicating, but I'm always disappointed when I cut into one and take a bite. Melons are low in acid, which makes even the ripest specimen seem bland, and their texture is at best insipid, and at worst mealy.


After a week had passed and I had failed to get rid of said melon at either of the family brunches I attended over the weekend, I knew it was now or never. So I took a stab at the melon salad.

And it was the most I've ever enjoyed a melon.

The onion lends crunch and savory spice. French sheep's milk feta adds tang and creamy texture, and slivers of herbaceous mint bring cool freshness. Lime juice, olive oil, black pepper and flaky salt all perk up the chunks of juicy melon, letting its laid-back sweetness emerge as the star of the show. This salad screams "summer," and makes the most perfectly refreshing meal on a day when you're both ravenous and too hot to cook. It manages to feel both light and satisfying.


The melon from our box looked like a cantaloupe on the outside, but the flesh was green rather than orange. Use any melon you like here, including watermelon. The recipe below is loosey-goosey – add the components according to your taste.

And do yourself a favor – mix up a Dark and Stormy while you're at it.


Summery Salads:
Two-bean Potato Salad
Creamy Sesame Soba Noodles
Quinoa with Roasted Corn, Zucchini and Mint

One year ago:
Lemon Verbena and Red Berry Shakes
Two years ago:
Fresh Fig and Ginger Scones

Melon with Lime, Feta and Mint

This salad makes a light lunch or unique starter for a late-summer meal. Measurements are loose – add the components according to your taste. Use any melon you like here, including watermelon (ours was a green-fleshed sort of cantaloupe), but be sure to choose one that is fragrant and feels heavy for its size. With few ingredients in this salad, make sure that each is of top-notch quality: fresh, sweet onion, super-good olive oil, flaky salt such as Malden, and a moist feta that comes in large chunks. French sheep's milk feta is milder than other varieties and recommended as it won't overwhelm the dish. With the exception of watermelon, refrigeration does not flatter melons' texture, so plan to serve this soon after making it. 

Makes 6 first-course servings, or 2 main-dish servings for hungry people

1 medium melon (or 1 small watermelon), a bit smaller than your head
1/4 small red onion, sliced very thinly
8-12 large mint leaves, slivered, plus some small ones for garnish
juice of 1 large or 2 small limes, to taste
1 tablespoon super-good olive oil
flaky salt (such as Malden) and black pepper
3/4 cup feta cheese, preferably French sheep's milk, in large crumbles

Cut the melon in half from the stem end and scoop out and discard the seeds. Slice each half lengthwise into eighths. Use a paring knife to slice the flesh from the skin, and cut the slices into bite-sized chunks. In a large bowl, combine the melon, onion, and mint, tossing gently to combine. Drizzle over the olive oil, lime juice, flaky salt and pepper, toss to combine, and taste for balance and seasoning. Scatter the feta over the top, and serve immediately, garnished with small mint leaves.

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