watermelon + feta… i think i ❤ you

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the Montclair Food & Wine Festival’s Grand Tasting. The event, a fundraiser for Saint Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, was hosted at the Montclair Art Museum and featured more than 30 New Jersey restaurants, distillers, wine distributors and food vendors. The night was a whirlwind of food and people. We started off in the relative calm of the VIP hour and then proceeded downstairs to a literal food frenzy. We tasted nearly everything that was being offered, and what we tasted was some pretty amazing stuff. Raw oysters and clams, and duck liver pate. Curried shrimp with rice and chilled asparagus soup. Injera with lamb and tiny spring vegetable tartlets. Delicious ceviche (one shrimp and one scallop) and down home mac n’ cheese. Not to mention spicy samosas and meatballs like your Italian Grandma used to make. There were a ridiculous number of wines, locally brewed beers, a Pisco Sour table, organic vodka cocktails and a rum punch collaboration between a locally distilled rum with a locally produced cocktail syrup— all available for the sampling (and resampling). And let’s not forget the wild array of desserts that were offered; Macaroons and cheesecake bites. Fall off the wagon worthy toffee and mini whoopie pies. Organic chocolates and a host of other delicious delights that I didn’t even get around to tasting. Sounds like a whole lot of crazy fun, right? Oh, it was.

It may come as a bit of a surprise but, out of the lengthy list of things I ate that night the one bite that stood out the most was the actually simplest one. As much as I enjoyed the exotic and decadent nibbles that were offered, it was actually the tiny tower of cubed watermelon, feta, mint and kalamata olives that kept me coming back for more. I had discovered how well watermelon works with savory ingredients last summer with this Grilled Shrimp & Watermelon Salad, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by how well this pairing worked together. It was the perfect balance of salty and sweet, fresh and preserved and I knew that I had to replicate it at home. And so I did. And it was delicious.

Watermelon and feta skewers with fresh mint is now—without a doubt—my favorite go-to summer appetizer. Give it a try and it just might be yours too!

Watermelon & Feta Skewers
Seriously this is so simple it doesn’t even need a recipe.

watermelon apps

Fresh watermelon, cubed
Block style feta cheese, cubed
Fresh mint leaves
Kalamata olives, pitted
Long, fancy tooth picks

  1. Start with a cube of watermelon, top with feta, a mint leaf and finally an olive.
  2. Skewer with a fancy tooth pick and marvel at the simple deliciousness.
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in a watermelon jam

My kids consume a tremendous amount of fresh fruit. Believe me I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. (The joke in our house is that if you go to the grocery store you better come home with a gallon of milk and some sort of fruit!) The other day the three of us went to a local produce market and loaded up on pineapple, pears, peaches, plums and a watermelon. Enough fruit to keep the average child busy for some time, but mine are not your average children. In no time our fruit bowl was once again beginning to look bare, although the watermelon remained untouched in our second refrigerator. The next time I went to the grocery store grapes and bananas happened to be on sale, so naturally I picked a few up. Then we decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather and day off from school to do a little apple picking— 18 lbs. of gala apples later we headed home. It was apple mania, the kids talked about the applesauce and apple pies they hoped to make and ate at least a dozen apples each over the next few days. And still that poor watermelon sat in the fridge, lonely and unwanted. As they slowly emerged from their apple stupor the weather just happened to get hot again. “Perfect Indian summer watermelon enjoying weather,” I thought and offered one final time to slice it up for them. I was once again waved off. So, as any no-nonsense mother will do, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Over the summer while researching what ultimately became my grilled shrimp and watermelon salad I had stumbled upon a recipe for watermelon jelly. I have to tell you, I’ve never considered watermelon as the ideal jelly ingredient but, since I’m relatively new to the whole jelly/jam making process I assumed the cookbook author knew better than I. The fact that the recipe called for Pomona’s Universal Pectin, the type of low-sugar pectin I’ve used in the past, clinched the deal. Of course I took a few liberties with the recipe; namely leaving in the pulp which essentially changed the results from a watermelon jelly to a watermelon jam.

The jam was delicious, not too sweet with a delicate watermelon flavor. In my opinion this is the type of jam that you serve as part of a cheese plate or with a dollop of goat cheese on a cracker. My children however liked it on their morning toast and as the “j” in their pb&j’s. “Okay”, I said “Knock yourselves out”… who am I after all to argue with theses fruit aficionados?

Watermelon Jam
This is more of a refrigerator jam and not a properly “canned” jam. You certainly can put the jars in a water bath and seal them for shelf storage, I however chose not to.

watermelon jam5

5 cups watermelon puree (about half of a medium watermelon)
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. Pomona pectin
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup key lime juice
2 tbsp. + 1 tsp. calcium water
glass canning jars

  1. Wash and set aside glass canning jars, their rings and lids. Combine the sugar and pectin in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Working in batches, puree the watermelon chunks in a blender. In a high sided sauce pan, bring the puree to a boil and add the lime juice and calcium water. Bring back to a boil.
  3. Slowly add the pectin/sugar mixture, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar and return to a boil.
  4. Remove from heat and let it sit for five minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Carefully fill the prepared jars with the hot jam. Cover and allow to cool to room temperature on the counter before refrigerating. The jam will keep for several weeks.

(This recipe makes roughly three pints of jam.)

*adapted from put ’em up!

weirdly wonderful watermelon

“Now watermelon time is here.
And when the day is warm and clear,
Our uncle thumps the green balloon
And says it’s ripe and very soon, A splash of pink comes into view.
We know exactly what to do.
We take a bit. We take a bite. We eat and eat
And taste the summer pink and sweet.”
~Leland B. Jacobs

There are few more perfect symbols of summertime than watermelon. It’s a sweet, refreshing and all-American barbecue favorite, which also just happens to be a nutritional powerhouse. According to The National Watermelon Promotion Board (who knew?!?) “2 cups of watermelon chunks contain 25% of your daily vitamin A and 30% of your daily vitamin C. Watermelon also contains B6 (6%) as well as potassium (8%), phosphorus (4%) and magnesium (8%).” Not bad stats, right?

We go through a lot of watermelon in our house, on average one good-sized melon a week. My kids and most of their friends consider it to be the perfect anytime snack and I often throw a handful of chunks in my morning smoothie. But I recently started thinking about other ways to use this sweet treat, possibly in a more savory fashion. What did we ever do in the days before Google?… I found recipes for pickled watermelon, blw’s (bacon, lettuce and watermelon sandwich), watermelon pad-thai, and even grilled watermelon burgers with cheese; but none of these recipes begged to be tried. No, the recipe I decided to get watermelon crazy with was a grilled shrimp and watermelon salad with feta cheese, onion and avocado and tossed with a honey-lime vinaigrette.

I happen to be a fan of savory/sweet flavor combinations. Jelly and cheese sandwich… sure! Candied bacon… yes please! Carrot sticks and peanut butter… but of course! However I’ve never eaten watermelon as anything but a component of fruit salad, a sweet and refreshing end to a fun barbecue or as an addition to a smoothie, so I was intrigued as to how this seemingly crazy savory/sweet salad would turn out.

It was fantastic!

Grilled Shrimp & Watermelon Salad
This is the craziest, yet most delicious combination of flavors you’ll ever put together. Try it once and it will be your go-to summer salad!

watermelon salad 5

15 medium (21/25 count) raw shrimp, peeled
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4-1/2 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
3 1/2 cups watermelon, diced into small cubes
1/4 medium sweet onion, sliced thin
1/2 ripe avocado, diced
2 tsp. lime juice
1 tsp. honey
2 tsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
1/2 cup crumbled feta

  1. In a small bowl combine the 1/2 tsp. of salt, chipotle powder, paprika and garlic powder. Sprinkle it over the raw shrimp, making sure they are completely covered with the spice mixture.
  2. Light the grill. While it warms up slice the watermelon and place in a strainer to allow some of the juice to drain out. Quickly grill the shrimp and set aside.
  3. In a small bowl whisk together the lime juice, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper. Combine the shrimp with the onion, watermelon and avocado. Add the feta cheese and cilantro, drizzle with the dressing and gently toss.
  4. Serve immediately and enjoy!

*adapted from real simple