Salad: Watermelon Salad with Basil and Feta
Verdict: A Juicy Surprise
I did it! I stocked up on two weeks-worth of produce (in retrospect, I might buy it on a weekly basis to preserve freshness), I made sure all my plasticware was clean and organized, and on Sunday night I created the first salad in the "Home Edition" series. There really is some truth to the saying, "nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come." Or at least, I find it to be very true right now. After months of false-starts, hemming and hawing, and general tomfoolery, I finally started making salads for lunch the night before. And having started, I find it super-easy, especially if I trouble myself to make the salad while I'm pulling dinner together.
Hats off again to Mr. Bittman, whose recipes I'm using during this escapade (http://nyti.ms/aJIgY0). They're exceptionally easy to make, and the whole list seems to evolve in complexity, keeping things interesting. Starting from mainly vegan salads made of only a very few ingredients, the salads on the list slowly grow (only slightly) more complex. By the end you're finally in "entree" salad country, munching on some combination of produce, meats, and/or grains. But the earlier, simpler salads are still so delightful that there's really no comparison in quality, only in the ingredient count.
And how was my "first" salad? Well I'm fairly sure that I've seen offerings of watermelon and basil on (cocktail) menus before, but faced with the real thing I feel the overwhelming urge to kick myself for not trying this combo sooner. The term "off the chain" comes to mind, but only if the chain is exceptionally large and sturdy, and only if whatever has come off of it is equally as robust. In other words, it be great.
Watermelon Salad with Basil (and Feta)
2 cups of cubed watermelon
2 roma (italian or plum) tomatoes, diced
2-3 tbsp fresh basil, rough-chopped or torn
2 tbsp basic vinaigrette (olive oil, vinegar, dijon mustard, parsley, salt, pepper)
2 oz. crumbled feta
Toss the ingredients and enjoy. It keeps well overnight, and the vinaigrette makes the tomato and watermelon render some of their liquid, so it adds some extra juiciness to the whole deal. The watermelon's sweetness tames the acidity of the tomatoes and the basil sticks an elegant spike of flavor into the whole mess. I'm usually leery of vinaigrettes, falling more on the bitter side of the palette than the sour, but in this case it boosts the "suchness" of everything else rather than going on it's own tangy rant.
Bittman has a bunch of caveats (or asides, rather) to his recipe. You can substitute peaches for the watermelon or the tomato. I chose not to since:
A) I was curious to try the watermelon-tomato-basil combo and
B) the next day's salad recipe had peach in it, why rush it
He also suggests adding bacon or feta to the salad, rendering it even more delicious, albeit now un-vegan. I went with the feta approach, and again, the slight sourness of the feta was conquered by the other flavors in the salad. The net gain was small bursts of creaminess and saltiness that only improved the general texture of the salad. The idea of trying this again with some fresh bacon crumbles makes me shudder with longing.
All-in-all this is just gorgeous, fresh, summer deliciousness. What's more summer than watermelon, right? It doesn't even have to be super-ripe to fit this bill. Just make sure that the basil is nice and fresh. I imagine you could experiment with the dried variety and do fairly well, but there's something about that spunky, sweet, herbaceous flavor of fresh basil that really revs up this salad. Put another way, this salad highlights basil so nicely that it helped cement my growing "interest" in licorice-y flavors (I'm looking at you, fennel). So if you're a basil fan, get on this.
I myself, will be revisiting this one as a staple salad for the rest of this summer, and I imagine beyond.
Next up: Peach Salsa?
For Mark Bittman's original salad list, go here: http://nyti.ms/aJIgY0