They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But this week, this old dog (me!) is treating my taste buds to something new – watermelon salad. It is true, watermelon salad is nothing new. But it is for me. Three or so years ago, when watermelon began it’s salad ascent, I baulked. No melon or any other fruit, apart from figs, ever saw the inside of my salad bowl. I was adamant that sweet fruits had no place being paired with cheese, herbs or salad leaves. The exceptions to this rule were granny smith apples or figs with cheese – these are two pairings that I have always enjoyed.
I guess I should have been more open-minded towards watermelon’s salad prowess. After all, it is often considered a vegetable – it comes from the same family as cucumbers, pumpkin and squash and, in 2007, Oklahoma designated watermelon as its official state vegetable. In Chinese culture, the rind of the watermelon is used as a vegetable - stir-fried, stewed and often pickled. Pickled watermelon rind is also common in American Southern food culture.
In my watermelon-salad epiphany, I have finally worked out how to embrace the extreme sweetness of this fruit – pair it with an ingredient as aggressively savoury as watermelon is sweet. Halloumi is my savoury saviour of choice, but you could also use feta, a sharp goat’s cheese or black olives. In this salad, I’ve also added another flavour profile, sour, to help balance the sweet. Quick pickled shallots provide a wonderful piquant zest to this salad.
In other news, it is now officially summer in New York City, and the locals are winding down and leaving town. School is out today and the two-and-a-half month summer holiday begins. I may not be posting much over the coming two months but I hope to check in and say hi now and then. On the other side, on September 1, I will be launching my new book Neighbourhood in Australia (yay!!!). There will be a book tour in Melbourne and Sydney, so I hope to meet many of you at one of my launch events (more info soon). And for Stateside salad fans, I am so pleased to announce that Neighbourhood will be available in the United States from next Summer! At this stage, it will be released in June 2017, so definitely watch this space for more US release news.
Watermelon, halloumi and quick-pickled shallot salad
Watermelon offers a somewhat unusual texture in a salad. It is juicy and continues to emit liquid after being cut. To prevent a soggy salad, don’t let your melon hang around. Make and eat immediately! I’m also being flexible with the amount of watermelon in this recipe – use more or less, it’s really up to you.
Serves 4 as a main, more as a side
- 16oz / 500g halloumi, drained and sliced into ½ inch pieces
- 2-3 cups cubed watermelon
- 3-4 cups baby rocket (arugula) leaves
- 10-12 basil leaves, roughly torn
- 4 Persian cucumbers, sliced
- extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and black pepper
Quick pickled shallots
- 1 shallot (eschalot), very finely sliced
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- pinch of coriander seeds
- pinch of sea salt
- 1 tbsp water
To make the pickles, place shallots in a small bowl and pour over apple cider vinegar (enough just to just cover them). Stir, and then add the rest of the ingredients. Allow the shallots to pickle for at least 10 minutes. Can be made a day ahead and allowed to pickle in the refrigerator overnight.
Heat a barbecue, grill or frypan until hot. Coat the halloumi slices in a couple small glugs of extra virgin olive and gently cook the halloumi for 1 minute or each side, or until golden on both sides. Cover with foil to keep warm.
Take a large platter and arrange the rocket leaves all over it. Scatter over the watermelon cubes, cucumber, and torn basil. Tear the halloumi into smaller pieces and add it, along with some drained pickled shallots, to the salad. Squeeze over the lime juice, drizzle over some extra virgin olive oil and season with sea salt and black pepper. Serve immediately.