I’m a fan of the show Real Girl’s Kitchen and Haylie Duff on the Cooking channel. In her recent Summer Cravings special episode, she made a delightful watermelon and feta salad. It was so appetizing and looked so yummy that I just wanted to reach into the TV and a grab a bowl for myself. Instead, I went shopping. I decided to create a salad inspired by her watermelon feta salad but one that suited my particular tastes. What came out was pretty dang yummy, if I say so myself.
I used some savvy alternatives for flavors I didn’t like and ingredients I couldn’t find. The original recipe called for feta cheese, Dijon mustard and watercress. I’m not the biggest fan of feta. I find it a little on the bitter and sour-ish side of cheese for my taste. What feta does have is a wonderfully salty brine taste, lower moisture content and crumbles beautifully. I turned to one of my favorite cheeses as an alternative…COJITA! I love the salty rich flavor that comes from this Mexican origin cow’s milk cheese. Its milder than feta and tends to suit my (and my family’s) palette better.
For some reason, I couldn’t find watercress, which is so strange to me. I can always find watercress. But I knew where to turn and luckily I already had it in my fridge. Arugula. Watercress has a peppery bite to it that butter lettuce or romaine just don’t have. I could have also used flat leaf Italian parsley but I’m saving my herb garden’s parsley for a remake of our wedding salad. Just thinking about it makes me drool. Oh, did I say that. *wink* Back to the salad at hand. I’m not a spinach fan but it also is a great substitute as are endive, radicchio or even escarole. All will give you a similar flavor.
The last ingredient that had a casting change was the Dijon mustard. I got nothing against Dijon only it needed a stand-in for this performance. I thought I had Dijon in my pantry. In fact, I swore I did but I didn’t. So this girl used some quick thinking and grabbed the good ole yellow mustard. Yep, yellow mustard. It is not as complex a flavor as Dijon but it did the trick. Below is my Real Girl’s Kitchen Inspired Watermelon Cojita Salad:
1 chopped shallot
1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard
1 teaspoon of honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
dash of ground pepper
pinch of course ground salt
1 mini watermelon
1 bag of fresh arugula
1/2 cup fresh chopped mint
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 pint baby cherry or grape tomatoes (yellow or harvest are the best for color and flavor)
1/2 cup crumbled cojita cheese
Putting It All Together:
1. Either in a toaster oven or regular oven lightly toast the pine nuts. Keep an eye on them because they can go from good to bad to worse in a heartbeat. Set them aside when done.
2. Make the dressing by combining the shallots, mustard, lemon zest, the juice from the lemon, honey, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk until emulsified, being well combined. Set aside.
3. Slice the watermelon in half and make watermelon balls with either a melon baller or a rounded tablespoon. You want about 4 cups of watermelon balls. Place balls into a large salad bowl.
4. Shred arugula by tearing it into smaller pieces. Place into the bowl with the watermelon. Add the chopped mint. (I got mine from my fresh herb garden that is currently growing like its on steroids.)
5. Add cherry or grape tomatoes – any small tomato will do. For the best flavor and most colorful salad, yellow or harvest tomatoes are the ones to lean toward but red work just as well (and did in my version).
6. Sprinkle pine nuts and cojita cheese on top of the salad. Add the dressing, mix and serve immediately.
Besides the wonderful fresh flavor, there are three awesome features of this salad. First, its extremely healthy and low calorie per serving. The “worst” ingredients you add are the cojita cheese and the olive oil. Both of which are important parts of a balanced diet and are minimal given the amounts. Second, its a super simple meal to serve and prepare. Talk about fast. Total time to prep and make was about 15 minutes and most of that was watermelon balling. Lastly, its balanced flavor is an ever age crowd pleaser. It balances the sweet of the watermelon with the tart of the dressing and tomatoes. The nuttiness of the pine nuts pairs well with the peppery arugula and the salt of the cojita. And the mildness of the watermelon plays well against the fresh mint. Its was a hit with me and my family. Makes my mouth water just typing about it!
Let me know if you give it a try and what you think. Until next post!