Friday, August 11, 2023

Watermelon-Feta Summer Salad and an Old, But-Not Forgotten Poem/Friend

A more grown up watermelon salad.

When I managed a produce department, watermelon questions abounded during the summer months. Mostly, "Is this ripe?" On one hand, it drove me nuts; on the other, it was high entertainment to watch the voodoo antics customers performed and ritualized to pick out the best one.

Some rude people expected me to cut open whole watermelon after watermelon until I cut one to their liking. For the most part, people were kind and obliging. (I will have some tips at the end of this blog on how to pick out a good watermelon.)

Sadly, most watermelon here in the States is consumed on its own ... simply slice-and-serve. That's too bad because watermelon makes for an incredible summer salad. It is cool, juicy, delicious. Fortunately, watermelon has grown up in the last decade. Gone are the childhood "baskets" grandma labored over so lovingly for the family picnic and always photographed ... and picked at. 

 Always the star of the family picnic!

(Sadly, gone are the days when one of my best grade school friends, Phillip, who lived on a small farm with 11 siblings!!!--yes, it was a Catholic school with real nuns! We often raided the family watermelon patch with our trusty pen knives. Those were the best melons! The farm is now gone and covered with a subdivision.)

Today, watermelon salads almost constitute a meal. Its sweet juiciness pairs ever so well with Feta's earthy saltiness and brine.  Just those two ingredients with a squeeze of lime is wonderful. 

But why stop there?

Make a real "garden" garden salad by adding cucumber pieces and sliced, sweet grape tomatoes. Add black olives, either regular or Kalamata. Make a honey-lime vinaigrette. Toss with basil and some mint. Add some thin-sliced red onion. Now that's a salad worthy of any picnic. Top with a flurry of toasted walnuts or a sprinkle of pistachios. And, yes, watermelon and tomatoes pair well!

Years ago, on weekends after work, I often travelled to Milwaukee, which had a significant Greek population. A small neighborhood deli sold authentic hand-made Feta formed into ginormous square ice-berg blocks swimming and bathed in brine in tin vats which they cut to order. I've never had Feta that good since!

Below is a basic savory--not sweet--watermelon salad. I've never had anyone complain. Mediterranean salads like these were all the rage five-six years ago. Feel free to add to it--or subtract. Usually, family and guests want the recipe/formula.

Serve with a beautiful grilled chicken breast or fresh fillet of fish of your choice. A cold wine ... Hello Summer! Just grilled hamburgers? This melon-heaven elevates the entire meal--to neighbor envy. Always a good thing ...

Add your watermelon at the last possible moment to avoid "pooling." If possible, keep your cut chunks in a colander or large sieve over a covered bowl in the fridge to catch as much water as possible. Discard as much of the interior gelatinous part of your tomatoes as possible.

If you're not an onion person, a quick run under boiling water will lessen their stringent sharp taste. 

When serving, keep, if possible, some of the ingredients in small bowls for guests to add extra, especially the Feta.

I've also had this with FRESH peaches and topped with fanned avocado slices. Wonderful. 


  • 3-4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
  • 1 cup sliced tomatoes, squeezed of seeds, or use cherry tomatoes cut in half 
  • 1 large English cucumber ... I skin mine in "stripes" and scoop out any seeds. If using garden cukes, peel and spoon out the center seedy parts. Cut into chunks. Substitution: Water Chestnuts
  • 1/3-1/2 cup pitted black olives, American or Greek, drained, (cut in half if desired)
  • 1-3/-1/2 cup crumbled Feta cheese from a large chunk
  • 1/4 razor-thin sliced red onion in half circles OR some chopped green onions (both optional)
  • Herbs of your choice: basil leaves, mint leaves, tarragon
  • Shelled walnuts or pecans (optional but makes a nice garnish)

  • Basic Vinaigrette for a Watermelon Salad

    • 2 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil
    • 1 tablespoons white wine vinegar
    • Zest of one lime
    • 1 tablespoon honey
    • 1 large fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
    • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
    • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste.
    • Place ingredients in a jar and shake until emulsified. Taste for seasonings and adjust. Drizzle over salad just before serving. I like to keep some to the side for those who would like more. Suggestion: Keep a small bowl of Aleppo pepper flakes on the side for those who like a bit of heat/spice.

    If you have a "Jenga" brain easily stimulated by the sight of LEGO's, this may be the salad for you! For one or two people, it is a fun presentation. Beware, it takes a lot of time and creates a lot of waste. Do not attempt to use a knife to cut the squares. You need a square cookie cutter. 

    I've made these balsamic shots and they're great! Simply use a mini scoop to make a "dent" in the top square of the melon. Put in a drop or two of balsamic vinegar GLAZE. Cut same-sized squares of Feta cheese to place under the watermelon square or sprinkle over as in the photo. Serve on a lettuce leaf. I've also used blue-cheese crumbles. Just use a quality brand.

    Lastly ... when serving any salad with tomatoes and if you have access to actual plants in your garden, garnish with real tomato stems ... cut the "suckers" from your plants ... put in small glass jars ... First, bruise the stems a little to release the oils/fragrance. Mix with some wildflowers/daisies/grasses ...


    When I was a young teacher, this collection of poems (same title) was a joy to teach. The book created quite a stir amongst English majors across the country when it was first published and was, if you can imagine, a run-away best seller. I could only afford the paperback copy. I still have it, tattered and marked. Keep every book you ever read. There is a reason they market bookshelves . . .

    We don't read enough poetry. Today, in fact, we barely read at all--especially for the sake and sheer love of reading. I taught poetry for decades. I can honestly say no student ever complained. Even during Hamlet. Most felt special and grown-up as we discovered humanity that united and defined who we were  . . . 

    Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle
    by John Tobias

    How to choose a sweet seedless watermelon:

    1. First and foremost, look for the spot where the watermelon sat on the ground. Never choose one with a "white" spot. You want yellow/golden. White means it was picked too soon.
    2. This is often overlooked but important. Check the "webbing" on the watermelon ... it looks like very faint or fine spider webs crawling on the melon... The more webbing, the better the melon. 
    3. Look at the over-all color. It should be bright, healthy-looking, and shiny, not dull in color or sheen.
    4. Heft it. The heavier the better. It has a lot of "water." 
    5. While the shell should have just a bit of "give" to it, you don't want soft or mushy. 
    5. Go ahead and tap it. It should have a hollow sound--but that is the least denominator of choosing a melon.
    6. The stem should be brown; if green, it was picked too early.
    7. Read the poem above. Center its sentiment within your inner watermelon OM ...