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 by the time I got it home, 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.