Even though fruit and cheese tend to go together like soup and sandwich, the first time I saw watermelon and feta cheese paired on a menu, it struck me as very odd.
Apples and cheddar? Sure. Pears and Stilton? You know it. But I was sure watermelon was much too watery to stand up to the bold flavor of feta, no matter that everyone tends to love the interplay of sweet and salt in general, and that the combo is hugely popular in Egypt, Israel and throughout the Balkans. Well, those folks are right, and I was dead wrong. Watermelon and feta are a great match — and they are at the center of this salad.
I must confess I’ve only recently come to love watermelon. Part of the problem is that it always seemed kind of monstrous. You brought one home from the supermarket, chopped it into hunks and still had to empty out your refrigerator to store it. These days, there are options. First, we can buy it in pieces and sometimes by the slice. Second, there are littler guys — seedless watermelons — so called because they contain only tender edible seeds, much like the seeds in a “seedless” cucumber.
The user-friendly new packaging aside, I also appreciate watermelon’s healthfulness. The aptly named edible is in fact 92 percent water by weight, which is at the core of its unique ability to hydrate us. Finally, it’s delicious, and refreshing when accented with a spritz of citrus.
With the watermelon, feta and cucumber in place, I filled out the salad with dark bitter greens — namely arugula — and fresh herbs. You can substitute watercress for the arugula, and any one of your favorite herbs for the mint and cilantro.
The grilled pork tenderloin turns a side dish into a meal. By the way, the tenderloin is one of the leanest cuts of pork.
Now to the dressing, which teams up feta and buttermilk. Given its ability to provide creaminess (and tang) to a recipe without adding a ton of fat, buttermilk is one of my favorite cheating ingredients. And the feta is so flavorful that I crumbled some extra onto the finished salad.
At the end, you’ll add some crunch in the form of homemade, baked whole-wheat pita croutons.
Voila, the perfect summer meal in a bowl. Refreshing and filling.