Sometimes, I go to the grocery store with a methodically assembled list, each ingredient added for a specific dish. Other times, I let the whims of the store whisk me away.
My most recent weekly shopping trip was like that, and the North Star of my journey was produce.
Outside the store, flats of gorgeous ruby red strawberries from Plant City. Next to that, striped baby watermelons. Inside, mounds of sweet onions, the ones that grow right alongside fields of strawberries.
Strawberries are at their very best right now. The crops in east Hillsborough County are bountiful, and just in time for the Florida Strawberry Festival, the annual Plant City event that starts Thursday. Stay tuned next week for more on strawberries, including a plethora of recipes.
But it was the little watermelon I placed in my cart that inspired me this week. And while Florida watermelon season is at its peak during the upcoming warmer months, this small, seedless variety called to me.
And then, in the dairy aisle, blocks of feta cheese. The pairing was too strong to ignore.
I was talking to a friend about feta earlier in the week, specifically about how she loves it and I can typically take it or leave it. I realized it’s because I rarely eat it in its purest, most appealing form. Usually it’s little crumbled bits in a premade salad or sandwich, one of 10 ingredients that gets lost.
It’s most vibrant when freshly crumbled from a larger block, then used in a recipe that takes its texture and saltiness into account. Feta is a little briny and drier than something like goat cheese, but still soft enough to break apart with a fork.
It is a perfect companion to watermelon, a sweet fruit with loads of texture even though it’s mostly water. The two come alive when covered with fresh mint, and something acidic to break through the salt of the cheese and the sweet of the fruit. Balsamic vinegar does the trick in this recipe, as do little pieces of red onion that have been marinated in red wine vinegar.
As with most things in life, it’s about balance, and this dish delivers.
Watermelon With Feta and Mint
1 small red onion, finely diced
⅓ cup red wine vinegar
1 seedless watermelon, red flesh cut into 1 ½-inch chunks
4 ounces feta cheese
1 cup coarsely chopped mint leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Combine red onion, red wine vinegar and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Let sit at least 15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the dish.
Place watermelon on a serving plate, then add crumbled feta cheese. Top with mint.
Now, instead of making a separate vinaigrette, season the whole plate. Start by cracking some freshly ground black pepper over everything, then drizzle olive oil in an even layer. Splash balsamic vinegar around the plate.
Using a fork so you don’t get lots of liquid, lift some of the red onion out of the small bowl and scatter it on top of the salad. You likely won’t need more salt thanks to the feta, but you can add more to taste.
Serve right away.
Source: Michelle Stark, Tampa Bay Times