When I was first charged with making the watermelon salad starter at Public restaurant in New York nine years ago, it was a revelation. I’d never thought of putting watermelon with savory ingredients to create a refreshing salad. It was full of contrasting flavors and textures, which I always love, and not having much of a sweet tooth, this was a very welcome way of getting one or two of my five-a-day. Public’s salad was incredibly fiddly – all of the melon cubes had to be cut in identically sized cubes, as did the feta cheese. The jalapenos were sliced wafer-thin, the pepitas had to be browned just so, and only the smallest of basil leaves could adorn the plate. That is how you achieve a Michelin Star, after all. The garde-manger chef stood over me during those first shifts, flapping his arms wildly if I didn’t place something just so and regularly accused me of having terribly bad habits apparently common among long-time home chefs. I was just finishing culinary school, confidence working in a professional kitchen not high, so I was relieved when I was rotated out of this diva’s station and into the warm starter station.
And while my time at Public introduced me to many ingredients and techniques (many of the same dishes are still on their menu), it was the watermelon salad that I took home to my tiny studio’s kitchen and immediately recreated for everyone I knew. In the intervening nine years, I’ve stumbled upon many a watermelon salad on menus around the world. The word is out. I too have spent time refining my own version and this is the one that has stuck. Now, as watermelon is suddenly in every shop, I encourage you to give this salad a try. Yes, some consistency in the size of your melon pieces is nice, but not obligatory, and now I just crumble the feta. Chop your herbs as finely as you’d like and grind lots of black pepper on top. Summer in a bowl.
1/4 watermelon, cubed
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
handful chopped mint
handful chopped basil
3 tablespoons black sesame seeds
drizzle olive oil
Mix everything together in a large bowl and serve!