Watermelon Salad with Quick-Pickled Shallots and Lavender Champagne Vinaigrette
I’m a summer baby. Born and bred (clap clap clap clap) deep in the heart of Texas, I grew up where the main seasons are summer and slightly less summer, so the antagonizingly pleasant weather here in Denver has always thrown me off-kilter a bit.
Only on rare occasions does it get oppressively hot, and it’s such a change from the banality of consistently perfect weather, that it’s a welcome change.
I like to go outside and soak in that heat like a snake on a rock on those days. Heat like that makes me want to eat like I should eat all year round – light and healthy, fresh, whole ingredients with minimal fussing.
It’s practically the only time I’ll eat a salad.
But this is not your run-of-the-mill salad. Far from your typical leafy rabbit nibbles, it has substance and crunch, sweet, savory and sour all mingling together. Studded with nubbins of salty cheese, bright, grassy hits of parsley punctuate the summer-sweet watermelon. Juicy and cold, punchy with a kick of vinegar, this is a salad that makes you forget in a few short months the sunny days will begin to wane and the weather will turn biting.
The vinegar is laced with a subtle whiff of crushed, dried lavender, a kiss goodbye to spring and summer blooms. Like salt on your watermelon, a sprinkling of vinegar brings all the flavors into focus, making the salad sparkle on your tongue.
If you haven’t salted your watermelon before, it’s a revelation. I tried it for the first time just a year or two ago, when a friend brought out a plate of freshly sliced melon with a ramekin of salt on the side for pinching. With total skepticism, I gave it a shot, sprinkling the crunchy kosher crystals from between my fingers.
And suddenly, I liked watermelon. No longer wan and watery, the slices were juicy and full of flavor, singing of sunshine and long, lazy days in the heat. I’m going to close my eyes and cling to that, as stores and ads begin touting the arrival of fall
There are already pumpkins at the farmer’s market. Just a few, but enough to caution that the days are growing shorter and sweet, hot summer days are fleeting.
Take a bowl of this cool summer salad onto the porch and linger a bit longer than necessary.
- 2 cups cubed seedless watermelon, cut into .5 - 1 inch pieces
- 1 cup cubed English cucumber, peeled
- ½ cup crumbled feta, goat, cotija or other salty cheese
- ¼ cup roughly diced parsley (a mix of mint and parsley is nice, too!)
- Roughly 2 Tbsp sliced quick-pickled shallots
- ½ shallot, sliced
- ¼ cup champagne vinegar, apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp lavender buds, crushed and rubbed between your fingers to release the oils
- ½ tsp whole grain dijon mustard (I use Maille)
- Pickle the shallots either a day in advance or immediately before assembling the salad - the longer they are allowed to sit in the vinegar, the tangier they will be. Pickling the shallots tames their oniony bite, making them tart and tangy, but not overwhelmingly pungent. Put your shallots in a cup or jar. Add a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar, the crushed lavender and mustard grains. Pour in the vinegar and swirl or stir to combine. Let sit for at least 10 or 15 mins while you make the salad or up to a week. If you find vinegar to be a bit strong, add 2 Tbsp of water to the mix.
- Dice up your watermelon and cucumber. While on the cutting board, sprinkle evenly with cracked pepper and around 1 tbsp kosher salt. Add to bowl, then top with cheese and parsley.
- With your fingers or a fork, pull the quick-pickled shallots out of the container and scatter on top. Sprinkle 2- 4 tbsp of the remaining vinegar mix over the salad.
- Toss to combine all the ingredients, and enjoy in the sun!
- Feel free to switch out the feta crumbles with goat cheese, cotija, ricotta salata or any other salty, semi-hard cheese.