The city is hot, muggy and scorching. It’s literally like spending your afternoon in front of the “back of an air-conditioner”. Such is the vapour in the air. Hot and enveloping. I just lie in hope that the skies open up and bless us with some respite from this cat and dog weather. It’s gruelling and tormenting. The temperature is searing and stewing. My faculties abandon me, the minute I walk out of air-conditioning, and even the notion of eating a heavy oily Indian meal, or a fiery Asian meal or even a full bodied Chinese meal, feels as punishing as wearing a black lycra full-sleeved shirt and walking on the beach under the afternoon sun. It is under these harsh and relentless circumstances that my mind has wandered closer to a chilled, sweet, crunchy and salty salad. A Watermelon and Feta Salad.
Nothing cools you down like a melon of any kind, and the watermelon is one of the very few fruits that I like. A big juicy fruit with intensely sweet flesh, made up of nearly 92% water. It’s available everywhere and there’s not a fruit stall on the street that doesn’t sell one. The watermelon has been extoled as the Tree of Summer, or the fruit of the tree of thirst. It’s easy to eat, and all you need to do is cut through the dark green rind with a large sharp knife to get to the succulent, luscious, watery red mass. You can either cut the fruit into large chunks or wedges, or just pulp the fruit down to a liquid in a juicer roughly leaving enough mush. Once done, I’d recommend, the juice or the cut fruit itself be left lying in a fridge for a bit then be consumed only after the chill enters the red sinews of the chunky fibre. I even like freezing large chunks of watermelon, and consuming them one by one, or adding them to my Gin and Tonic.
But coming back to the salad; I think I first tasted a Watermelon and Feta Salad several years ago at the Tasting Room in Parel. Generally, not one for any kind of salad, this salad just blew my mind. Principally because it isn’t stuffed with leaves of all kind. It’s a salad that bewitches me, and it’s formidable to reduce that witchery to words. I am enthralled by the utter singularity of this salad.
The salad is simply large chunky wedges of magnificently sweet, exuberantly juicy, scarlet watermelon flesh secured by something substantial. Something that would stand up to the watermelon’s extreme liquidity and sweetness. Something that is dense and salty, yet creamy. Like Feta Cheese. So you have large chunks of watermelon, with crumbled and briny feta, and a handful of roughly torn spicy and peppery arugula or rocket leaves and a dressing of balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar and olive oil. Finished off with luxurious, toasty, buttery, and slightly sweet, but terribly expensive pine-nuts. Now cut into the crisp and chilled watermelon, mop up some balsamic dressing, scoop up a couple of nuts, lance in some rocket and shovel it straight into your mouth. You will actually feel your temperature tumble down.
Speaking of melons, I’m sure you’ve eaten a Cantaloupe or a Musk Melon or Kharbooja, before. One and the same thing. The Kharbooja or Musk Melon is known by many names in India. In Tamil it’s called, ‘Mulam Pazham’, in Bengali it’s known as ‘Kharmuj’ and the Gujarati’s refer to it as, ‘Shakartetti’. As summer arrives in Gujarat, but before mangoes make an appearance, the Gujarati kitchen starts making food with this melon, including juice, panna, and shrikhand. It’s also eaten just by itself as fresh fruit, or as a kachumber or just raw with salt and chilli powder as a part of the thali in Gujarat. I like the melon as a spicy, tangy salsa with chopped tomatoes, red onion, fresh coriander, garlic, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Or as a smoothie with banana or cucumber. What’s more, since the melon is not a braggard in taste, it can blend, and melt into any form and recipe, including a rich Melon Kheer made with the pulp of the Kharbooja with almonds, rice and condensed milk.
Another kind of melon is the Honeydew Melon, or the Meetha Tarbooj. The Honeydew is a juicy, mildly-sweet, and earthy favoured fruit that adapts itself too sweet as well as savoury dishes. In its simplest form, you can make a juice out of the fruit and add a little honey and a squeeze of lime and grated ginger if it seems, like you need some more flavour. It’s healthy, and it’s low on calories and high on fibre like most melons, so it’s ideal for this weather. The Honeydew works marvelous as a cold green gazpacho soup as well. We all know that a gazpacho is a cold soup made of raw, blended vegetables. With the Honeydew, you can make a nice crisp yet pulpy green gazpacho with green peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, vinegar and olive oil.
Even a Honeydew melon with avocado, honey, cucumber, green grape and green apples makes a great summer gazpacho. They’d both taste fab, and both spread the goodness of melons in this warm weather. I’d say the melon, be it the Watermelon, Musk Melon, Honeydew Melon and any other melon that you may fancy, is your weapon against the heat. A healthy, cooling, refreshing and hydrating weapon. May the force of the melon be with you.
Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer based in Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.