When Jim specifically asks for this salad by name, you know it’s a keeper.
I think by now you know that I use Jim as my benchmark, if he likes something (not just smiles and eats tolerantly) then I know I can share it with all of you. Through the years, Jim has not held back if I have made something that he didn’t find stellar. He is of the mind that if he is polite and says that some dish is good, he’ll be forced to endure it again. So right early on, he was quite forthright. To the point of saying things like, “Yeah, thanks for dinner. You don’t need to make that again.” Can you believe it?!
Actually, because he was like that right from when we were dating, I really didn’t have a huge learning curve when it came to making dishes he liked by the time we were married. And through the years, I have come to trust on his palate. He is sensitive to sodium, so even if we are eating out, if the first bite of something is too salty, he won’t continue. He may have started as a pretty conservative eater, but he’s has grown more and more adventurous with each passing year. He still is quite vocal with his commentary, but these days, I use him as a barometer when creating new recipes. I’m happy for his honesty!
Anyway, yesterday was a holiday here in Canada, and the unofficial start to summer for us. On this day, you can bet that anyone who owns a grill of some kind had it fired up. Whether it was steaks, sausages, salmon, ribs, or like us, burgers, the Canadian collective was grilling some sort of protein! I wasn’t sure what Jim would be in the mood for, so I was prepared: I had lamb kebabs, a piece of venison backstrap and burgers ready. I really shouldn’t have been surprised at all when he opted for the burgers!
And as we were popping into the grocery store to pick up last minute ingredients, Jim asked for ‘the watermelon salad’. I know exactly what he’s asking for. It’s Nigella Lawson’s Watermelon, Feta and Olive Salad from Forever Summer. As you all have come to know, I adore this book. In many ways, I think it was ahead of it’s time. Or at least, it was at the forefront of introducing the more exotic Middle Eastern flavours and spices to North America. When I saw this recipe in her book, I was a tad perplexed. Watermelon and olives?! Really? Up until that moment, watermelon was only ever a snack or dessert item as far as I was concerned. To suddenly see it presented with red onions, parsley, black olives and feta cheese really took me out of my comfort zone. Here in the western hemisphere we were only just starting to experiment with more exotic pairings. Of course, there are cultures who grew up eating like this, but we just didn’t know about those dishes yet.
So I tried it. I followed the recipe to a T. And laid it out on a lovely platter for our guests that evening. I didn’t say anything about it, so as not to get any pre-judged opinions happening. One by one, everyone spooned some of the salad onto their plates. The first person took a chunk of the melon on their fork, slightly dripping in olive oil and cracked black pepper, and popped it into their mouth. I was watching, with a slight amount of apprehension. As the hostess, I knew this would either be mocked once everyone left, or I might be applauded for presenting them with something new. Then the reactions starting coming. “Oh my, I thought this was a tomato salad!!” “This isn’t tomato, it’s watermelon!” “Why is there watermelon in this salad?” And the best one, “I don’t know why, but I really like this!”
That was in Toronto, back in 2005. And we’ve been having this salad ever since. Even though we can get all the ingredients year round, and the whole purpose for Nigella writing the book was to show how we could enjoy summer flavours year round, we do tend to wait for the warmer weather to make it. There is something about in season watermelon that makes all other melons fade in comparison. That intense sweetness can’t be substituted. So as soon as it is warm out, this salad becomes a mainstay on our table.
You are going to love how easy it is to pull together this salad. Sliced chunks of melon and feta (I love a good sheep and goat milk feta) get together on a platter. Black olives (I get pitted ones, to be nice to everyone!) get added around the platter next. Chopped mint, and parsley leaves (use Italian parsley and don’t chop it- the leaves will act like the lettuce in this salad) are strewn on top. Finally thinly sliced red onion which has been soaking in lime juice gets drizzled on top, along with some olive oil and black pepper. Gently toss everything with your hands, and that’s it. The red onion becomes soft and the bite disappears, thanks to the lime juice, and the pepper adds the perfect hit of warmth. You won’t need any salt, thanks to the feta and the olives.
This is truly one of those ‘greater than the sum of the parts’ kind of dishes. And once you’ve made it, you’ll wonder how this was never part of your repertoire before now!! I know that’s exactly how I felt. In many ways, my cooking world can be divided into BNL and AFS, (Before Nigella Lawson, and After Forever Summer!) And naturally, from this moment, Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi Sabrina Ghayour and Michael Solomonov created a long line of chefs that keep all these new flavours coming!
Enjoy the beginning of summer, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere. If not, stay warm and cozy!
Watermelon, Feta and Olive Salad
This exotic blend of flavours and textures now seems so right. Hard to believe there was a time we would never have thought to put briny olives, creamy feta and sweet juicy watermelon on the same plate, drizzled in lime marinated red onions, parsley and mint! Summer on a platter!
- 1 small red onion
- 2-4 limes depending on how juicy they are
- 3 1/2 lbs sweet ripe watermelon
- 9 oz feta cheese
- bunch flat leaf parsley
- bunch fresh mint
- 3-4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 4 oz 1/2 cup pitted black or kalamata olives
- freshly cracked black pepper
Peel and halve the red onion and cut into very find half-moons and put in a small bowl.
Add the juice of at least 2 limes, and if there doesn't seem to be enough juice, add more. Let steep a good 1/2 hour.
In the meantime, remove the rind and seeds from the watermelon, and cut into approximately 1 1/2 inch or so cubes (large bite sized)
Cut the feta into similar size.
Put both the melon and feta in a large wide, shallow bowl.
Tear off the leaves of parsley. Do not chop- these are your 'lettuce"! Add it to the bowl.
Chop the mint and add it to the bowl.
Pour the onions and the juices over everything.
Add the oil and the olives. Use your hands to toss everything very gently. You don't want to crush or mush up the feta and melon.
Add a good grinding of black pepper.
Recipe from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson. One of my most favourite books to this day!