Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chill-Out Room


Well, it seems like Summer is just not quite ready to give up the ghost! While I was getting used to the idea of breaking out the sweaters, I now have to drag the fan back from the shed! Days like these call for light and refreshing foods. Watermelons offer the perfect relief fro the heat. 


When I was a kid, watermelons only came in two sizes: large and extra large. They were perfect for large gatherings, picnics and bloc parties, but they were daunting for smaller households. Some shops would sell half or quarter melons, but unless they were freshly cut, chances were that by the time you got your melon chilled and sliced, it would have become a little sour. Nowadays, you can find small and tiny watermelons, perfect for four or fewer eaters, and these miniature varieties tend to be extremely sweet.

'Seedless' watermelons have been around for a few years now, but I have to say that I don't see the point: one of my childhood pleasures was to eat ice cold slices of watermelons in the backyard and spitting out the pips at the squirrels. It was all in good fun of course, I was not actually trying to hurt them, and they usually ate the projectiles. My father always sprinkles salt on watermelon slices: it intensifies the sweetness, and draws out the melon's water making for sloppily wet eating. A Cambodian friend of mine not only sprinkles salt onto melons, but she also adds powdered chilli peppers and lime juice. If melon is properly chilled, the combination is quite confusing, yet tasty.

Watermelon rinds, like cucumber peels, are more than just compost fodder. They soothe sunburns, hydrate chapped skin, and some people pickle them. 

Watermelons are lovely just the way they are, so it might not occur to some to do more with them than eating them straight out of the fridge; cubed into a fruit salad is often just about as fussy one will get with a melon. But this fruit has lots of potential, especially during the dog days of summer.


I don't remember where I first saw this salad, but I assure you it is lovely, and perfect for fending off a heat wave: the watermelon hydrates you, while the salty feta replenishes the minerals lost in sweat. Add some shredded herbs, and you have a flavour explosion that will revive any flagging appetite. If you find feta too briny for your taste, you can remove the salt by soaking the cheese in milk; the milk not only draws out the salt, it also tenderizes the cheese, rendering creamy instead of crumbly. Be forewarned though, once the feta has soaked in milk, it will not keep very long: three or four days at the most. 


Watermelon and Feta Salad
Serves four

1 small watermelon, or 2 halves of different colour (about 1 kg/ 2lbs, with the rind)
150g/ ±5oz  feta
About 10 mint leaves
Purple basil or shiso (perilla) leaves for colour, optional 
Kalamata or dried Morrocan olives, optional
Olive oil,  lemon juice, optional

Remove rind from watermelon, and cut into bite-sized cubes, about 2cm/ ¾".
Crumble or cut feta into 1cm/ ±½" chunks. Add to the watermelon.
Finely shred the mint, and toss into the salad.
The salad is done, but you can add olives for extra oomph. 
Chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.
The salt in the feta and olives will draw out moisture from the melon, so you should not need to add any oil or lemon juice, however if you find the salad too 'dry' after it has rested in the refrigerator, add a splash of oil, the lemon juice is only necessary if you want more zing.


You can use seedless watermelons if you like, but I do not find the pips particularly bothersome in the salad. They can be pushed into a corner of the plate, or discreetly spat out along with the olive pits. But should the seeds be swallowed, no one need worry that a watermelon vine will grow in their stomach...


Bon app'!




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