Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Midweek Food Musings: Watermelon, Feta, and Baby Arugula Salad

"I just never thought I would like this combination!" exclaimed one of my Sunday dinner guests. This, my friends, is always music to my ears. Part of my personal mission is to try different flavor combinations, and of course sharing them with family and friends, and having them be well received, is a gift!

Funny but I remember so vividly the first time I ever really thought about the magic of the pairing of flavors. It was many moons ago, in Manhattan. I was in one of my dear friend's restaurants (Rafael Palomino, the restaurateur and chef for whom I've scribed 4 cookbooks!) and his general manager came into the kitchen (where I was trying to keep track of the chef's actions so I could correctly write down a recipe!). I remember that John--manager--had a small glass with a deep maroon liquid in one hand, and a plate with sunshiney-golden and smooth cake in the other. The glass held port (always one of my favorites!) and the plate a piece of one of Chef Rafael's signature desserts: dulce de leche cheesecake.

John instructed me, "Okay--take a bite of this cheesecake, and then a sip of the port!" He watched anxiously as I shuffled my clipboard around so that I could follow his directions. I closed my eyes (helps me taste better) bit, and sipped. And then, I sighed. The velvety deep flavors of the port were the perfect follow-up complement to the silky sweet--but not too sweet--flavors of the cheese cake. "You see!" John proudly proclaimed. Yes, I had seen.

Since then, I've always enjoyed creating, and savoring, the pairing of flavors--be it in the same dish or in separate ones. And oh, to my sommelier friends, my hat is so off to you; what you do when you combine a wine with a dish is pure magic!

So, well, getting back to my dinner, it was a lovely 15 year-old girl who made the statement about my Sunday salad.

Serves about 12
(By the way, you can easily halve this for 6 guests)

2 bunches baby arugula (you can also use 2 of the 7-ounce bags that Trader Joe's sells)
3/4 cup fresh seedless watermelon, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 cup (or to taste) feta cheese
Juice from 1 lime
Extra virgin olive oil
White balsamic vinegar
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the arugula in a large salad bowl. Add the watermelon and feta cheese and toss (I do this pretty close to serving time). Add the lime, oil, and vinegar (typically twice as much oil to vinegar--but you can also combine this separately before adding to the salad). Taste, and season. Enjoy!

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