Apparently it’s not so uncommon nowadays, but I first heard of melon and feta together in Nigella Lawson’s book Forever Summer – recently re-released as Nigella Fresh. (A hardback copy of the original Forever Summer is listed on Amazon.com for the unlikely price of $7,607.21.)
Nigella’s version is much more complex than mine – and, as she admits, improbable – with its combination of watermelon, feta cheese, red onion, black olives, mint, black pepper, and lime. It was a bit of a leap of faith to try it, and I do recommend it; it’s a delicious salad. But as the years have passed since I first made Nigella’s salad, I have found myself paring it down. To my taste, the real flavor pop comes from the sweet, juicy melon against the salty, milky cheese. The zing of a little lime is never unwelcome to my palate, and the surprising burst of coarsely ground pepper keeps it exciting. The olives and red onion add more complexity than this dish really needs, so I leave them out. The freshness of mint is a nice addition, but not worth going out of my way for.
And simplifying the dish means I can throw it together in five minutes – ten if I haven’t pre-cut the melon.
I also rarely use watermelon in this salad anymore, for the simple reason that I rarely buy watermelon. I prefer cantaloupe. This is largely because I know how to choose a really good cantaloupe, whereas I’m clueless when it comes to watermelon. Three out of four watermelons I bring home are underripe and/or have mushy flesh – yuck. Also, watermelons are too big. And I just like the flavor and firmness of cantaloupe better.
How do I choose these wonderful cantaloupe, you ask? There are three tricks. The first is to look for a melon with as little green as possible. The second is to press on the blossom end; you want the melon to give a little when you do this. The third is to sniff. (Though scent is my favorite test, note that it doesn’t work as well on refrigerated melons.) Does it smell like cantaloupe? Then it will taste like cantaloupe.
I’m not really going to give you a recipe here: Everything you need to know I’ve either said already or your palate will tell you. Just chunk up some ripe, fragrant cantaloupe and toss it with crumbled feta cheese, lime juice, and black pepper. (You probably won’t need salt, but if you get a really non-salty feta, as I did recently, you might.) If you have some mint handy, chop that up and throw it in too. Taste and adjust until it sparkles on your tongue. Enjoy as breakfast, side dish, or dessert.