Monday, August 9, 2010

Watermelon Salad

Jhan and I are having a lot of fun going to the Chico Farmer's Market every Saturday morning and picking out an item and a farm to highlight in the blog.

It being summer, I keep pushing for summery, hot weather foods, so this week we picked up an amazingly tasty Mickey Lee watermelon to use in a watermelon salad.

Watermelon Salad

Karen Alexander from Alexander FarmsWe bought the watermelon from Karen Alexander of Alexander Farms in Capay (just on the other side of the Sacramento River from Chico, in Glenn County). Karen and her husband Tom have been growing melons, berries, cherries, garlic and blueberries for 28 years in Capay, and have been coming to the Chico Farmer's Market for 20 years (I didn't realize that the farmer's market was that old!).

The watermelon we picked was a Mickey Lee, a light-colored, small melon with bright pinkish-red flesh. We picked it mostly because of it's small size - the two of us just can't eat a huge melon - but it turned out to be very tasty as well!

Mikey Lee Watermelon from Alexander Farms

(We only bought one melon, so the image above is actually a composite of two shots of the same melon before and after it was cut open, blended in Photoshop.)

Oh, and as for the watermelon salad? Well, I wasn't too sure about watermelons and kalamata olives in the same dish, but this was a home run! What incredible contrasts of sweet and citrus and salty! And it turns out that mint and watermelon go amazingly well together. No matter how strange it may sound to you, you have to try this. It is seriously that good.

The Food (Jhan)

This salad was soooo good!

I should start out by telling you that I'm not really much of a watermelon fan, so trying this recipe was kind of iffy in my book. However, I love sweet and salty combinations, so the idea of feta cheese, kalamata olives and the sweet juicy watermelon attracted me. I modeled this recipe on one from Nigella Lawson's website (there are hundreds, if not thousands, of watermelon salad recipes out there). I think of Nigella as a food goddess - everything she does is so good. I love her very down to earth demeanor too. If you are not familiar with her recipes and show I recommend that you check them out.

Ingredients (Serves 4):
1 small watermelon (like Mickey Lee, Sugar Baby, etc.), cold
1/4 cup fresh mint
1/4 cup fresh basil
2 limes
1 small red onion
1/4 cup olive oil
Crumbled feta cheese (1/4-1/3 cup)
1/8 -1/4 cup slivered kalamata olives (to your taste - I love olives so for me the more the better)
1/4 tsp course salt - gray or kosher,etc
Arugula (optional)
  1. Cut watermelon into several wedges, seed, arrange on salad plates
  2. Cut red onion into thin slices and slice those in half, separate slices
  3. Juice limes into a bowl and add onion slices to pickle for 10-15 minutes
  4. Chiffonade or tear basil and mint, sprinkle some over watermelon wedges, reserve the rest for topping.
  5. Pull onions out of lime juice when pickled, reserve lime juice, shake limes to remove excess liquid and arrange 1/2 of slices on top of melon wedges, save the rest for topping.
  6. Mix olive oil and salt into lime juice, whisk until thoroughly combined
  7. Arrange a spoonful of crumbled feta cheese on top of the watermelon slices, arrange olive slivers on plates/wedges, add reserved onion slices and herbs over wedges.
  8. Drizzle each wedge with lime/OO dressing
  9. Optionally - for a more full bodied salad - arrange each watermelon wedge on a small bed of arugula

This salad is not only extremely tasty (summer on a plate!) but makes a pretty presentation.
For a self service buffet you could cut the watermelon into chunks and layer ingredients into a clear glass bowl, pour dressing over all. Salad will mix as it is spooned onto diner's plates.

Watermelon Salad

The Plating

This was another one of those times when Jhan and I didn't communicate that well on the plating. Jhan sees things in her mind and just can't ever understand why I don't see the same thing, and gets very frustrated when I do something other than what she's visualized. In addition, she doesn't always have an eye for what the camera will see, and as a result, I typically do the plating.

I tried to do something like what she described, but I didn't like the result, and it was clear from her expression that I had done it all wrong. So I told her to try plating it herself, and her attempt (above) was much better than mine - simpler and cleaner. My plate had too many pieces of big chunks olive that made it look way too busy. The only way to hide that was to shoot from an angle that hid the chunks. The image below is the best I could do.

Watermelon Salad

The Lighting and Photography

Watermelon Salad LightingI really wanted to shoot this salad with a high key effect, so set up white table cloth, white background and white plates. And though I used my normal metering, I upped the flash compensation 2 stops to get the near overexposure that I wanted.

I also wanted to have the backlight be the key, so I shot it 2 stops above the front fill, which was shot through a reflector to soften the filled areas. Most of the images have only minor levels adjustments in Photoshop.

Overall, I judge the lighting a success.

Lessons Learned
  1. Jhan and I both enjoy incorporating the local producers into the blog, and I'm sure that component of the blog will expand and evolve.
  2. Watermelon salad - wow!
  3. Communication regarding plating is still an occasional issue, particularly when Jhan has something specific in mind but can't communicate it.


  1. Love what you are doing, You need to add a follower button, I'm doing something similar, but I'm light years behind you. Adding to favorites and going to go through all your posts. nice!

    Really nice