The pleasures of a given season are hard for me to deny myself, and I can deny myself a lot. But the seasonal lusciousness of summer in Buffalo, which for me is part literary, part culinary and wholly sensual, is too much to forgo. Apart from the overbearing heat and the sudden busy-ness, underneath the glossy bullshit snapshot of these few short months that would have us all grilling huge hunks of cow and swimming in waterproof mascara (and not much else) is the real thing: sweet, soft wind and the green smell of mown lawns, music trailing from car windows, melons and berries and real tomatoes and extra time and light everywhere.
Reading and writing have a different quality in the summer, a freer feel— less serious, more flowing. You can put down a book and come back to it without worry, or decide to ignore the other things you’d normally do and just read (or write, or play guitar) all day. It’s a pleasure I give in to often, but I could let it go— it’s harder for me to let go the special tastes of summer, like a chilled Perfect Margarita at El Palenque, or a Raspberry Craze smoothie at Anderson’s. You may be able to have them in November, but they won’t taste the same any more than good eggnog will in August. You have to enjoy them now, and I am a sucker for the taste of a moment.
One special collection of flavors I haven’t been able to get to, yet-- and it’s driving me mad-- is Nigella Lawson’s Watermelon, Feta and Black Olive Salad. I keep buying most of the ingredients and then not being able to find fresh mint, which is a key element. You can use a different onion, you can use almost any kind of black olive, but you can’t leave out the mint and have it taste the same. It’s cooling, sweet, salty, juicy; a bright and sharp mouthful of the best of summer.
You probably made it years ago when Forever Summer came out, or tried some more recent celeb chef interpretation of the concept; but if you haven’t already fallen in love with it, here it is. You’ll never eat anything fresher and more perfectly suited to an August afternoon. It’s a meal in itself for several people, 4-6 at least with baguette on the side, by my serving size. I’m determined to find some fresh mint, somewhere, and eat a plate of this under the shade of the old maple in the backyard, because the nights are getting cooler fast, and this pleasure won’t wait.
Nor does this salad hold up over time— make it not long before you mean to eat it, and share it or halve the recipe—it won’t taste great tomorrow, just now.
Adapted slightly from Nigella Lawson’s FOREVER SUMMER.
WATERMELON, FETA and BLACK OLIVE SALAD
• 1 small red onion (hard to find here-- use half a large)
• 2-4 limes, depending on juiciness
• 3 ½ lbs. sweet, ripe watermelon
• 9 oz. feta cheese
• Bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
• Bunch fresh mint, chopped
• 3-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
• 4 oz. pitted black olives (I use Kalamata when I can)
• Black pepper
1. Peel and halve the red onion and cut into very fine half-moons and put in a small bowl to steep with the lime juice, to bring out the transparent pinkness in the onions and diminish their rasp. Two limes' worth should do it, but you can find the fruits disappointingly dried up and barren when you cut them in half, in which case add more.
2. Remove the rind and pips from the watermelon, and cut into triangular chunks. Cut the feta into similar sized pieces and put them both into a large, wide shallow bowl. Tear off sprigs of parsley so that it is used like a salad leaf, rather than a garnish, and add to the bowl along with the chopped mint.
3. Tip the onions, along with their pink juices over the salad in the bowl, add the oil and olives, then using your hands toss the salad very gently so that the feta and melon don't lose their shape. Add a good grinding of black pepper and taste to see whether the dressing needs more lime.
The above recipe has been a part of my late summer routine for years-- and that brings me to a new "feature" here on what I am starting to joke about as being the least read blog in the multiverse: for the new few months, I'm going to set aside Thursdays as a day for recipes, those that I truly rely on.
I'd call them Tried & True, for a catchy TRIED & TRUE THURSDAYS theme, but with me, it's more like tried & tweaked... what they will be, though, is recipes that are used so often, I don't measure or look at the book/clipping/scrawled notes anymore. I'll get myself posting regularly, and give out the friendliest, easiest, most affordable veg recipes from my decades of cooking in the process. Other days will remain a jumble of possibilities: reviews, reflections, diatribes, questions. Whatever living the veg life in Buffalo NY is about, as experienced by a foodie with more taste than money.
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