I do profess to waxing lyrical (mostly to myself, mind you) about cooking local and seasonal but sometimes my desire gets the better of me and my good intentions, and I go and buy an exotic fruit that’s been flown in on a jumbo jet or sailed in on a massive ship. I consoled myself this week when I handed over some dosh in return for a very Lilliputian-sized watermelon, which had come from Spain. Surely it’s a bit better than Costa Rica, right? And it was organic. Hmmm.
This little melon experience was rendered ever-more pertinent by a fascinating talk I went to on Friday night by the effervescent and erudite American writer, Michael Pollan. Pollan’s new book, ‘Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation‘, highlights the multitude of global food-related pickles we now find ourselves in, including the plight of our dwindling cooking culture, which begs us to eat “food made by humans” (and thus not by machines) with other humans (i.e. around a dinner table), and “vote with our forks” for “cooking is a political act”. Brilliant, just brilliant.
But I was still left with a watermelon. (Thank goodness.)
Watermelon will forever remind me of those hot, hot days I spent grazing on a kibbutz in Israel’s Negev Desert during my last teenage year. Looking back, the contrast between the English and Israeli food cultures could be seen by the way we/they approached the green-skinned, berry-red fruit: we would inject (literally) ours with vodka, ‘downing’ the toxic flesh; the latter would eat theirs with Bulgarian cheese (not dissimilar to the Greek feta). The outcome was that I spent much of the time vomiting in the kibbutz toilet whilst our Israeli comrades hiked halfway up a mountain simultaneously looking gorgeous in their bathers.
Anyway, back to the watermelon. You’ll be very glad to know (or maybe you won’t) that there’s no vodka in my recipe for a very fresh, fragrant and easy-to-make summer salad. In fact, it’s much closer instead to the way the Israelis eat theirs: with the addition of a salty, white cheese that compliments the sweetness of the watermelon, and which is then all tied together by a generous garnish of fresh herbs. The herbs also exist to appease the carbon footprint of the watermelon – or rather my Jewish guilt – as they are grown in The Mother-in-Law’s garden. And you can’t get more local than that.
This dish is delicious eaten on its own or with grains, fish or meat, and definitely with cold rose wine.
1 small watermelon
200g feta cheese (try to use real feta made with goats and ewes milk)
3 tablespoons of fresh mixed herbs, finely chopped (I use oregano, mint, coriander, parsley and chives)
A glug of extra virgin olive oil
No more than the juice of half a lime
Freshly ground black pepper
Chop the herbs finely and add them to a serving dish.
Using your hands, crumble the feta cheese into the serving dish.
Peel and cube the watermelon, attempting (if you can be bothered) to remove the black pips.
Add the chunks to the serving dish.
Season to taste with the olive oil, a squeeze of the lime juice, and some freshly-milled black pepper.
It really is that easy.