Watermelon is one of summer’s most refreshing fruits. When paired with salty feta cheese, it becomes a gourmet centerpiece of a refined meal. Add mint and arugula, and you have yourself a simple but striking example of fusion. As a belated homage to the USA’s July 4th Independence Day, I bring you an all-American, “salad bowl” fusion of food immigrants (OK, imports).
Growing up in the American South, watermelon was such a source of pride at farm stands and grocery stores that I always assumed it was indigenous to the Americas. Seeing fresh watermelon and watermelon juice around the world at breakfast buffets – from Ecuador to Zambia to Oman and India – did not lead me to change my assumption. But with only a brief bit of research, it was clear that my “American” fruit was not a Native American. If you’re at all curious, Watermelons appear to have originated in southern Africa (so Zambia wasn’t far off!). That delicious, juicy fruit made its way to the Nile Valley and Egyptians’ tables by Biblical times. Because watermelon is that delicious, cultivation spread east through India and China by the 10th century A.D. and northward to southern Europe. European colonists and slaves introduced the plant to The New World by the late 16th century. China remains the world’s greatest producer of watermelon, and while the USA doesn’t make the top five globally, more than 40 US states grow it. The deep pink, fleshy watermelon we eat today, as with most produce, was bred to become a hardier, sweeter, and more attractive version of itself.
A few years ago, I saw enough watermelon-feta salads begin to pop up on restaurants’ summer menus everywhere that it was time to create my own. On a hot day, a salad with watermelon is a light but filling side dish or meal in and of itself. If you’re a regular reader, you know I love flavor contrasts (I prefer to refer to them as compliments). The watermelon-feta combination works so well because its flavors are so far opposite of one another. Add mint, and introduce the complexity of the sweet herb. Arugula adds bulk and texture, with just a hint of bitterness. A simple lemon juice and olive oil drizzle – tart, nutty, and creamy rounds out the other elements.
When I make this salad, I put together individual servings, rather than in bulk. The result is prettier and more precise – also allowing your guests’ preferences to be considered. The “recipe” (sorry, laughable to me to call this a recipe when it’s subject to taste and needs no precise proportions to ‘work’) is based on a single serving. Shopping for a crowd? 3rd grade multiplication will serve you well!
To make this dish a filling meal, add cooked lentils, grilled chicken, or chicken sausage. I enjoy it with Sweet Apple Chicken Sausage from Trader Joe’s or nationally available (USA) Applegate Farms brand.
Simple watermelon salad with feta, arugula, and mint
- 2 cups baby arugula, rinsed and patted dry
- 1/2 c. watermelon, cut into 1″ cubes
- 2 Tbsp. crumbled Feta cheese
- 1 Tbsp. chopped, fresh mint leaves
- Lemon juice and olive oil to taste (restaurant ratio: 3 parts oil to 1 part lemon juice; The CD’s ratio: 3 parts lemon juice to 1 part oil)
Arrange arugula in/on a serving dish. Drizzle lemon juice and olive oil and lightly toss to coat. Place watermelon atop the center of the arugula. Sprinkle with feta and mint. Serve immediately.