Some food combinations are like that: completely counterintuitive. Take tomatoes and watermelon. The first time someone brought a watermelon and tomato salad to a pool picnic a few years ago, I almost took a pass. It sounded dissonant. But the odd pairing was surprisingly harmonious, cool and refreshing, with the right balance of sweet and salty—made even better with tangy feta cheese sprinkled over the top. My kids like the weirdness of it.
Right now is the time to make this salad, with both melons and tomatoes overflowing at farmers markets. Plus, it goes well with just about anything you throw on the grill — beef steaks, pork tenderloin, lamb chops, chicken thighs or shrimp. Even portabello mushroom caps.
Start with the basics: cubes of watermelon, thinly sliced tomatoes and cheese. Be sure to use a good quality imported Greek feta, which has far better flavor than mass-produced supermarket feta. Then enhance the salad any way you like. Sharp red onions, also in season now at farmers markets, are excellent in this salad, as are kalamata olives. A friend of mine adds spicy arugula. I scatter small basil and mint leaves over the top of ours.
The dressing can be as simple as a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. I like to add a little bit of good, syrupy balsamic vinegar to bring all the flavors together.
Domenica Marchetti is the author of “The Glorious Pasta of Italy” (Chronicle, June 2011) as well as “The Glorious Soups and Stews of Italy” (Chronicle, 2006) and “Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style” (Chronicle 2008). She blogs at DomenicaCooks.com.
Watermelon and Tomato Salad
Watermelon and Tomato Salad6 servings
Serve this as a side dish to grilled meat.
This salad needs to be served soon after the dressing has been added; otherwise it will start to weep and the watermelon and cucumber will lose their crisp texture.
For the dressing
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the salad
1 1/4 pounds cold seedless watermelon (rind removed), cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1 medium very ripe summer tomato, cut into thin wedges
1/2 cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, seeded and then cut crosswise into half moons
1/4 cup very thinly sliced red onion
3 ounces imported (Greek) feta cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Coarsely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon small mint leaves
1 tablespoon small basil leaves
For the dressing: Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, oil and salt in a small bowl, until emulsified.
For the salad: Spread the cubes of watermelon on a serving platter. Arrange the tomato wedges over the watermelon, taking care to distribute them evenly. Scatter the cucumber and red onion over the tomato. Top with the cubes of feta cheese. Sprinkle the pepper over the cheese, and then scatter the mint and basil leaves on top.
Drizzle the dressing over the salad; serve immediately.