Monday, September 24, 2012

How to Read a Recipe: Watermelon Feta Salad

I sat down with a friend for a quick bite the other day and I scrounged about a little unsuccessfully. Eventually, we put together two salads; a slightly ordinary green salad and a salad of plum, feta and basil. He was quite happy about it and it tasted quite good. Of course, he wanted a recipe. So, it is time for another How to Read a Recipe moment.

The idea of the soft fruit salad comes from a standard recipe for Watermelon Feta Salad.  This salad is taking three fresh ingredients, mixing them together and maybe splashing some olive oil and/or vinegar and maybe some salt if your cheese isn't salty enough. That's it.

What I find interesting is that this approach of fruit, salt, herb and cheese plays out in many other classic salads - the granddaddy being Caprese Salad. This is a helpful frame of reference when you are going to start thinking for other salads like this. How would you begin to pair and create these type of salads?

Essentialist: Watermelon, feta and basil. These are the classic. I will add a little olive oil if the watermelon is a little sub par or dry. This recipe works because of the feta and watermelon pairing. The slight saltiness of the feta makes the watermelon taste more watermelon-y. Salt is to enhance flavour. In this case, because the base flavour tends to be err-watery, you don't often get much flavour.

Locavore/Seasonal: I have replaced watermelon with soft stone fruits fairly successfully (Peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries). In the winter, I am not sure if Ontario is the right place to try this. Maybe it is best to walk away from these type of salads in the winter.

Replacement Approach: Just as it says. Take one ingredient and replace it with a like ingredient. Watermelon for another type of melon (honeydew, cantaloupe, etc).  Feta for another cheese - just make sure that the cheese is salty or you will have to add a little salt (bonconcini+salt, parmesan chunks, aged gouda, blue). Change the herbs - parsley, coriander/cilantro, arugula. Change watermelon for other type of soft pulpy fruit (strawberry, cherry, halved kiwi berries).

I know that some are now saying, well I really like melon with parma ham or strawberries and black pepper really go good. Wait a sec, hold on. That idea explosion is supposed to happen but if it doesn't, just note each experiment and remember or write down the stuff you like. If you are unsure, try a little bit of each of the ingredients together before mixing a huge bowl that gets ignored on the table. I won't do that again. So to address those people who have started to wander off into ham/melon or any other classic variety way ...

Classic Flavours + 1: This recipe is three flavours that work together. Another way to look at it, is that there is a classic pairing with an additional taste. So, take any flavour match that you like and go at it. If you can add a third flavour that works as another pair, all the more likely that it will work. So, that prosciutto melon thing - add mint. Strawberry, black pepper - add basil and balsamic. Pears, blue cheese and watercress. I often use The Flavor (sic) Bible to get a pairing and add on from there.

Utilitarian Approach: What is a salad for? What are dangling participles for? Both, often mark a digression from the main point and they are often a result of an afterthought or poorly thought out article or meal. It is just something you are supposed to have. I realize that there is a whole other bunch of reasons but I am ignoring those right now.

Salads are a refreshing course that often help to reset your palate. So, change your salad to a sorbet. Watermelon ice with feta crema and basil. Kiwi granita with thai basil and vanilla ice cream. You could flip it around and make the ice cream with soft cheeses - blue ice cream with applesauce and walnuts.

Reductionist Approach: We are starting to get very far from that watermelon or Caprese salad at the top, so let's start getting to really basic. Take fresh fruit, dress with a good olive oil and salt. Done. Take fresh herb and toss with good olive oil and salt. Done. Take cheese -- oh hell, you get the message. Enjoy. Play with your food. You don't have to have the same green salad from the bag every day.

1 comment:

  1. Try the watermelon and feta with mint. It is delicious, especially in summer. Its very refreshing!