I don’t know much about gardening.
I like gardens. I like the idea of gardening. But it all seems so overwhelming I’d rather sign up for a CSA and call it a day. Or go to the farmers market on weekends. Or better yet, wait for my neighbor to drop off some of his never ending harvest on my doorstep (I repay him with sourdough).
But where’s the joy in that?
This summer, my husband gallantly spear headed our gardening adventures and it’s been fun documenting the process.
We bought all kinds of organic seeds to try, and lucky for us everything grew! We planted a variety of tomatoes including cherry tomatoes, yellow tear drops, sweet orange sun golds, summer squash (I broke down and bought a spiralizer), romaine lettuce, eggplant, figs and wait for it…
I had no idea what to expect when planting watermelon.
Melon in the backyard seems like such a foreign concept, you now? It’s not like growing the obligatory tomato or basil plant. Out of all of our seedlings however, it’s been the most exciting to watch. It’s like the ‘do nothing’ and ‘watch it grow’ plant.
We started it from seed and then transferred it to the garden in early July. With plenty of sun it turned into this crazy, yellow-blossoming vine that literally grew out of control! It’s like mint, but it crawls all over the ground at warp speed strangling everything in its path.
If you’re not careful you’ll definitely trip on it.
Eventually those little yellow blossoms turn into melons.
I think we had something like 6 melons blossom over the course of two months. Sadly, we lost the first three to an unknown cause.
But then, we found this…
Can you believe it? Homegrown watermelon!
I’m not exactly sure why this one survived, but common sense told me it had something to do with its growing location.
The first three melons grew directly on the dirt. We had a lot of rain this summer so they basically lived in mud. The big one grew on a thick bed of ground cover and weeds which ultimately protected its outer shell from the wet ground.
Naturally, I Googled the heck out of growing watermelon and I found a great article by Bonnie Plants.
It goes into all kinds of detail which you can explore when you’re feeling watermelon obsessed, but it turns out that watermelon should not be grown directly on the soil! Once it grows to be about the size of a softball you’re supposed to transfer it to a bed of hay to protect it from rotting on the ground.
Pass me a gold star, please.
The best part about homegrown watermelon is eating it.
If you’ve never tried watermelon in a salad before it’s an unexpected delight. Initially, I was never drawn to watermelon salads, thinking that they would be too sweet. But the cubes soak up all of the tangy vinaigrette which mellows its natural sweetness. The breads adds a wonderful crunch and contrast in texture. This recipe is similar to a panzanella-style salad.
Oh, and my secret ingredient?
No, no, no… not feta.
Watermelon and pickled peppers are best friends- they just ‘get’ each other. So good. I was lucky enough to find a jar of multi colored jalapenos but the traditional green ones will be just fine. Promise me you won’t skip this step!
And promise me you will make this salad before summer is officially over and the pumpkins and acorn squash start colonizing the supermarkets. Serve with grilled chicken, salmon, Mexican-style steak- it’s absolutely delicious!
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Tips: Watermelon is very… watery. For this salad, if you let the watermelon and tomatoes sit for a bit with lime juice and salt, a lot of the water will release which is what you want. You can do this ahead of time up to 1 hour.
Substitutions: None! Honestly, I never make a recipe the same way twice. But try this one as is before you experiment. The jalapenos and watermelon, with feta and lime juice is incredibly yummy.
Make-Ahead: You can cut the tomatoes, watermelon, and red onion slices several hours in advance. Store in separate bowls in the fridge until ready to use. The focaccia can be toasted up to 3 days ahead of time and stored in an air-tight container.
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, assorted tomatoes, halved
- 1½ cups cubed watermelon
- 1-2 fresh limes
- salt, to taste
- 1 heaped cup toasted focaccia croutons
- ¼ cup shaved red onions
- pickled jalapenos, roughly chopped, to taste
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
- ⅓ cup crumbled feta
- olive oil
- In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, watermelon, juice of ½ lime, and salt to taste. Marinate for 30-minutes to 1 hour. This step will draw out some of the moisture. Drain the juice and transfer the mixture to a serving bowl.
- Meanwhile, spread the focaccia onto a sheet pan. Toast in the oven @ 325 F until light golden brown. This should take about 20 minutes or so. Cool before adding to the salad.
- To the serving bowl, add the red onions- I shave mine directly over the bowl with a mandolin. Add some pickled jalapenos (the amount is up to you) the cilantro and focaccia croutons.
- Drizzle generously with olive oil to coat and add the juice of the remaining ½ lime. Toss gently and give it a taste. Add more olive oil, lime juice, and salt as needed.
- To serve, top with crumbled feta.
- Enjoy at room temperature.