Dog days of summer: Watermelon salad recipe and how to store lettuce

It was official last week in the Northeast. The dog days of summer have arrived. Strawberries came and went at lightning speed. Too much rain, too much heat. Onward into summer. Then, just as I was getting a handle on the heat and humidity while harassing Man of the House about the air conditioners that needed to go into the bedroom windows, along comes a dreary, cool day like today that has me reaching for a pair of socks and a sweatshirt. 

No matter, the heat will return, and with it, a craving for something perky to keep the senses alert. This watermelon salad is what I crave on the hottest days. Salty feta, sweet and refreshing watermelon. sprightly mint. Every bite says, come on, wake up. It's good to eat with grilled fish. On a hot night, who wants to mess around? Just throw something on the grill and make a cool salad. Have a gin and tonic in between, and let the cold rosé flow.

Here's the rub with salad: you have to wash the lettuce. Unless you buy what a friend of mine calls "yuppie greens." I am suspicious of cellophane-wrapped produce. Full disclosure: I am occasionally seduced by it. It seems so easy! It is so easy. It also usually smells of must (don't get me started on so-called baby carrots) and contains wilted, gummy leaves, too sad to be revived. The truth is, washing lettuce is a pain in the butt. That is why I was ready to kiss the feet of the same friend (of yuppie greens fame) who went to the farmers' market, bought an assortment of lettuce, washed it, dried it and brought it to me in a box. Who does that? 

Which brings me to what you can do for yourself (or perhaps for a friend who is recovering from an illness or needing some cheering up.) That box of lettuce was incentive enough for me to follow suit this week. I stopped by the market on Sunday, and though the lettuce looked a bit flagged and uncheerful, a soak in some cool water revived it. Here is my lettuce washing tutorial (this is a blog called Cooking Lessons, after all.)

How to wash and store lettuce. (Seriously?) Yes, seriously. Read it!

If you are using a salad spinner (I recommend it), first, remove the insert. Fill the bowl with cool water. Detach the lettuce leaves from the core, leaving them in large pieces. This is totally backwards from the way I used my salad spinner for years. BUT, those little gritty bits of dirt that collect at the bottom of the stems need to be swished around in a large volume of water. So swish them around (don't crowd the spinner bowl) and wait a few seconds. The dirt will sink to the bottom. Carefully lift the leaves out of the bowl and place them in the insert. Dump the water out of the bowl. Repeat if the leaves are particularly sandy or gritty. You will notice that the dirt has collected on the bottom. Rinse the bowl and replace the insert. Spin the lettuce until dry. Line a plastic shoe box with paper towels. (Square boxes fit most conveniently in the fridge.) Fill the box halfway with clean lettuce, and add another layer of paper towels. More lettuce, topped off with more paper towels. Don't over-fill the box; better to use two that are loosely filled.  Put the lid on and store in the fridge. Use as needed, tearing the leaves into bite-size pieces when you make the salad. If the leaves remain large, they are less likely to wilt and brown around the edges. The greens should last about a week. 

This is not so much a recipe as an outline for a salad. Improvise. The key elements are the watermelon, feta, mint, and lettuce. If you want to add a few more things, go ahead, but keep them to a minimum. I added black olives because I craved salt, and pumpkin seeds, well, just because. Not necessary.
Watermelon salad with feta and mint recipe
For 2 people (just make more for more people, but you knew that)

1 large handful of washed greens
About 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons vinaigrette
Salt and pepper, to taste
About 1 heaping cup of watermelon cubes
About 1/3 cup crumbled feta (not too crumbled)
About 1/4 cup pitted black olives, such as Kalamata
1 to 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

1. Toss the greens and mint with vinaigrette. Taste, and season with salt and pepper. Spread on a serving platter.

2. Arrange the watermelon on top of the greens. Sprinkle the feta, olives and pumpkin seeds on top. Drizzle with a little more vinaigrette. 

I never met a bottled dressing that I liked, and it is just plain crazy to buy it, when it is so easy to make. Spend a king's ransom on the vinegar and olive oil. It is a luxury that you can afford. I love all the Banyuls vinegars from Formaggio Kitchen, a local shop that ships to you if you are not close by. I also use a good Greek olive oil that I discovered at my favorite wine store. It can be ordered here. The main thing is to seek out quality producers. 

Really good vinaigrette recipe
Makes about 1/2 cup

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, such as Banyuls muscat vinegar (very mild)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

1. Whisk the vinegar, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the olive oil, to taste.

You may also want to try
Green goddess dressing from Simply Recipes
Caesar salad from A Food Centric Life  
Ginger sesame miso dressing from Beyond Salmon


  1. I came over because I saw you had commented on WORC. I had to laugh about hating us CA people.

    I remember watching an old episode of Emeril where he said if you choose not to wash your pre-washed greens that would be your business. Then he raised his eyebrows and said he would be washing his. If he is going to share that secret we really should listen. I love the shoebox idea – I will be using this. I think I have the same salad spinner as you – I love it because it is large.

    BTW – loving the veg stock I made from your recipe.

  2. Sorry, not to obsess, but I was a mature person before I learned to make my own salad dressing. When I asked my Mom how she said, “just pour in until it taste right.” What the heck does than mean? You can not know how many times I asked that question, until one day I heard Two Hot Tamales say it is a ratio; for every tablespoon of acid, put in two tablespoons of oil (or three) then you can add anything else, like shallot, mustard, honey, whatever. The light bulb finally went off. Now I feel kind of dumb, but that is how I learned.

    1. Madonna, You are so right. If you know the ratio, you can easily improvise with other flavors as you suggest. The standard is 1:3 vinegar:oil. But that can be played around with. Add more oil if your acid is very sharp, or use less oil if the vinegar is mild or if you want a sharper dressing. When I use this muscat vinegar, I find I need less oil because the vinegar is so deliciously mild and I want to be able to really taste it.

      p.s, so glad you are making stock!!

  3. love this post, Sally. can't wait to make this salad.
    thank you!

  4. Sally, This recipe looks so simple and has all ingredients I love. We will try it for sure.

    I'm going out to buy myself a salad spinner.

    1. What? no salad spinner? go immediately to nearest hardware store! :)

  5. Watermelon is always refreshing and this looks great! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Yum! I love watermelon with feta. I also have the same varieties of lettuce growing in my garden. I wish someone would wash it for me!

  7. Isn't it funny how exotic watermelon, feta and mint seemed only a few years ago? Now we can't wait to get our hands on the combo in the summertime--there's something so satisfying about sugar and salt and mint. Lovely photos, as usual. I can't store salad in boxes in my fridge--I'd have to get rid of all the leftover take-out barbecue. Ken

  8. Love watermelon in salads. Lovely post Sally as usual! Used a link to your post recently in a post I did about how to choose and cut a watermelon. Perfect timing! That's what i do with my lettuce greens too, and they really last in the fridge, making the making of a salad much easier when in a rush to get dinner down. The kalamata's are a nice addition.