When I first moved out to China, I soon discovered that practically every Chinese banquet meal ends with a huge plate of watermelon. Scared that what they’ve served you is bullfrog? It’s okay. Wait it out until dessert and then gorge yourself on watermelon. Don’t know if that dish is vegetarian or not? Ha, who are we kidding, this is China, so it’s not. Save it for the watermelon.
While I was studying abroad, my roommate and I would often seek out fruit stands. We would go buy a whole watermelon, and ask the vendor to split it in half. He’d do so with what looked like a giant steel machete which emanated a satisfying thwack, and we each carry one half of our watermelon back to our dorm room.
We’d spread out a ratty old towel on the cold tile floor and whip out two spoons that we’ve bought from the local market that constitute our only silverware in China, and we each would go to town on our own half. But something was always missing from those feasts of watermelon: salt.
My grandfather taught me to put salt on my watermelon, and it’s the only time I ever really splurge on it. Watermelon to me needs salt. It makes it both sweeter and slightly tangy and it keeps you hydrated on those days when the idea of having one more glass of water makes you want to explode.
This salad is a tribute to that savory watermelon: the watermelon and the onions and basil all meet halfway, and the flavors blend wonderfully. Walker had a few bites and then just ate the toppings, but he doesn’t like watermelon, and in this case, his opinion cannot be trusted. Both our dinner guest and I went back for seconds and thirds, and I suspect you will too.
Savory Watermelon Salad
Adapted from Sunday Suppers
1 small watermelon, sliced into thin rounds
1 medium onion, sliced thin
100g sheep’s milk feta cheese
Handful of basil
Half a lemon
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1. About 30 minutes before you want to assemble the salad, star t the onions. Melt butter in a sauce pan, and add the onion slices. Using a spoon, break apart the rings, coating each in the butter. Cook until translucent. Add the balsamic vinegar and toss with the onions to coat. Reduce the vinegar until it glazes the onions, and then remove from heat and refrigerate while you prep the other ingredients.
2. Using a biscuit cutter, cut circles out of your rounds of watermelon, putting the circles in a bowl. Sprinkle 1/2 a teaspoon of salt over the rounds, and gently toss together so that the salt touches each piece evenly. Add the juice of half a lemon and toss again gently. Refrigerate to keep cool.
3. Meanwhile, slice the goats cheese in to thin strips. Roll up the basil leaves, and using scissors, cut small slices out of the roll across the width. As you cut, you’ll see that the basil will unroll, giving you pretty strips to garnish your salad with.
4. Assemble the salad by layering each element with one another, in the style of a caprese salad. Sprinkle with pepper and serve chilled.
Since we’re not trusting Walker this time, I have asked my ayi what she thinks. She says (translated from Chinese) “That looks like a delicious hamburger!” Ayi, it’s not a hamburger, it’s watermelon. “Why would you put cheese on watermelon! Watermelon isn’t yellow!” Whatever. My genius is so unappreciated. In all fairness, she never tasted it. It was delicious. And in retrospect, maybe it did look a little like a hamburger.