My fascination with food began with flavor. It started out simply as a desire to taste and try everything: What does a raw oyster taste like? What about baked brie? It slowly transformed into something more complex as I challenged myself to learn flavor profiles and how to cook with that knowledge. I wanted to know how smoked mozzarella compared to cow’s milk mozzarella to burrata. I wanted to understand the intensity of lemon extract and use it effectively in baking. I wanted to know exactly what type of fish to buy when a recipe called for the ambiguous “white fish”.
As I grew more comfortable in the kitchen, I began to play with recipes substituting this for that and adjusting quantities. My interest, accordingly, took a turn towards science: Why does Kosher salt, which appears so coarse, dissolve so quickly? How will this recipe change if I use all-purpose flour versus whole wheat versus whole wheat pastry flour? Why? I proceeded to have a short obsession with food law and politics induced by a class I took on the topic. While that has since become a mild interest, it has fueled my passion for a different one, local foods and the bounty of topics that go along with them.
There are seemingly thousands of articles floating around that delve into themes related to local foods and detail the importance of eating them (I happen to like this one); so in an effort to keep this short and sweet, I’ll avoid penning a list of my own. The Social Policy major in me though, can’t resist pointing out local food’s potentially most powerful result, community. There’s something special about asking the person who pulled your produce from the ground about the difference between Russian and Tuscan kale or sipping coffee in a café where the beans were roasted on site. Mull that over.
While watermelon may not be the quintessential local food for the Chicago area, it does remind me of summer and summer reminds me of the plethora of local foods available after an all too long and all too cold winter. I’m constantly pondering new ways to use fruit in cooking. Sure, they’re a breakfast time staple and can easily be tossed into a bowl of oatmeal or mixed into a yogurt parfait. They are equally popular post-dinner tucked into a pie crust or folded into a cake. However, they are rarely featured at the dinner table. Vegetables take center stage as side dishes and I’m not quite sure why. Spicy yet sweet, tangy yet refreshing, this dish provides an alternative, giving you a fruit-based, savory side in all its glory. I might let you buy watermelon out of season for this one.
Watermelon Salad with Blue Cheese and Mint
This watermelon salad does not keep particularly well. It will last only about a day in the fridge. If you’re serving a smaller crowd, consider cutting the recipe in half to avoid having loads of leftovers.
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegrette
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
10 cups seedless watermelon, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
10 mint leaves, torn into thin strips
In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and paprika. Drizzle over watermelon and stir gently until each cube is lightly coated with dressing. Let marinate in fridge for at least one hour or up to several. To serve, remove watermelon from fridge and toss with blue cheese, almonds, and mint.