A Parting Gift

Dear Summer,

You have been so sweet. Let me sit back and take a moment to remember you — the salt-crusted skin and the smell of brine; the sound of cicadas and crashing waves; the intense sweetness of a plum after an accidental mouthful of seawater; the feel of falling asleep tucked into a hammock, impossibly both grounded and weightless, floating; the stretch of long days, melting hot and sticky-sweet, and the cool relief of evening — before I say goodbye….

Wait, a few more…

There now, thats better.

And now, dear readers, let me offer you something equally (bitter)sweet: a salad of summer fruits and herbs with a kick of pepper, brightened with the sweet bite of balsamic vinegar and balanced with a touch of salt.

Think of it as a parting gift from summer.

Watermelon Salad with Mint, Basil and Black Pepper

The first time I made this I included sliced tomato, the second time I omitted the tomato and added peaches instead, and the third time I used only the watermelon. I actually preferred it with just the watermelon, or with the watermelon and peaches. That said, if you wanted to include the tomato, I would suggest serving it tossed with some romaine or red-leaf lettuce and maybe some very thinly sliced red onion for more of a green salad. The next time I make this I think I’ll do the watermelon and peaches (or possibly even figs) over a bed of chicory frisee or thinly sliced endive — I imagine the slight bitterness and the crunch would compliment the sweetness of the fruit (and the softness of the peach or figs) very nicely. In that case I’d recommend reducing the balsamic first, to get a thicker, sweeter drizzle.

  • watermelon, preferably seedless
  • bunch of fresh basil
  • bunch of fresh mint (preferably not chocolate mint, apple mint or peppermint)
  • balsamic vinegar
  • olive oil
  • coarse salt
  • fresh cracked black pepper

Cut the watermelon (as much of it as you want) into slices or cubes, and place in a shallow bowl. Feel free to get pretty close to the green part for a little tartness and extra crunch. (If you’re using tomatoes and/or peaches, slice or cube them to similar sizes.)

Remove basil and mint leaves from stems. Wash and finely chop the leaves. (Note: for each bowlful of watermelon, I used a big handful of basil and a smaller one of mint–roughly 3 parts basil for every 1 part mint. Use as much or as little as you’d like.)

Sprinkle chopped mint and basil over cut watermelon. Drizzle with olive oil and a splash or two of balsamic vinegar, grind in some pepper and throw in a pinch or two of coarse salt. Toss gently, taste, and adjust seasonings.

This salad is generally best served within an hour. Letting it sit for five or ten minutes to allow the herbs to release a little of their flavor is a good idea, but I wouldn’t recommend much more than that. The longer it sits, the more likely the fruit is to release its water, which dilutes the balsamic vinegar and makes for a too-wet salad. Also, if you’re serving this with greens, the salt and vinegar will start to wilt them if it sits too long.

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