I don’t remember the outcome, but the images from the watermelon eating contest between my older teenage sister and her best friend, are as clear as if it was yesterday. Not the typical something two sixteen-year old girls do, so it made an impression. Hands behind their backs, they plunged their eager faces into the flesh of a freshly split watermelon on the table in front of them. I can still see their watermelon slush splashed faces laughing and spitting seeds out as they ate. To this day, whenever I see a watermelon I think of them.
Summer is the time to use watermelon and cucumbers as salad ingredients. The watermelon gives vibrant color, sweetness and thirst quenching crunch along with the watery crisp cucumber slices. In addition to its nutty flavor contribution, quinoa adds substance and protein. And both the lightly pan-sugared pecans and crumbled goat or feta cheese give tidbits of contrasting sweet and tangy flavor notes. I like using thinly sliced Romaine leaves for the greens, but baby salad leaves work well too. It’s tossed with simple minty vinaigrette made with your choice of balsamic, white or red wine vinegar and olive oil. For those who want to add more protein, there’s the option of adding cooked chicken.
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons balsamic, red or white wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- ¾ cup pecan halves
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 8 cups finely sliced Romaine lettuce (1 head) or baby salad greens
- 4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
- 2 cups chopped or sliced English cucumber
- 1-1/2 cups cooked quinoa (3/4 cup cooked in 1-1/2 cups water, see note for cooking instructions, if needed)
- ½ cup crumbled French feta or goat cheese
- Optional: 2 cups sliced or shredded cooked chicken breast
- For the vinaigrette, put olive oil, vinegar, mint and garlic in a small jar fitted with a lid and shake or whisk together in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper.
- For the pecans, stir together pecans and sugar in a small skillet over medium heat until sugar is melted and lightly crusted on pecans, about 3-5 minutes; remove from heat and turn out onto a baking sheet or wax paper sprayed with vegetable oil and cool to room temperature.
- In a large bowl, gently toss together Romaine, watermelon, cucumber, quinoa, cheese and sugared pecans (and optional chicken is desired). Evenly pour on minty vinaigrette and gently toss to coat ingredients evenly. Taste and add additional salt and pepper, if needed.