Happy Fourth to all those who celebrate it.
This year the Fourth of July fell on the first week of our vacation in California, the Golden Sate. We happily celebrated it over a family dinner after a long pool day with the kids.
Ostensibly I didn’t have access to my gadget-replete kitchen or my recipe books. Therefore, my contribution to the Fourth’s menu was as simple as it gets. I made a watermelon-feta salad and mint-lemon cooler. They were both a quick-fix, yet capable of beating the heat and offsetting the spicy sausages.
This salad is inspired by a traditionally popular Egyptian summer snack. Eating watermelon and briny feta cheese in one dish is associated in my memory with hot summer nights in Alexandria-Egypt.
35 years ago, the summer in the cosmopolitan and serene mediterranean city, Alexandria was simple, memorable, and probably happier. By all means, distractions were much fewer. Life was technology free and still socially sound. Malls were non-existant.
Food was authentic and mostly revolving around the sea gifts. Upscale restaurants were not many, while good hole in the wall eateries were all over the place. They mainly served lukmet Al Kadi (fried dough drenched in syrup or sprinkled with powder sugar), fatayer (crispy flaky pastries with different options of savory and sweet fillings), limited flavors of ice cream, and refreshing lemon and strawberry granita.
The main sources of entertainment to vacationers was to spent the days at the beach and the nights in a nice balcony overseeing the mediterranean, with a group of friends and families playing for long hours chess and backgammon, munching on homemade treats, or sharing a tray of cold triangles of watermelon and crumbles of Greek feta.
Historically, Alexandria used to be one of the strongholds of the Greek Diaspora. Their legacy largely impacted the Alexandrian lifestyle, economy and incontestably its cuisine.
The same watermelon-feta duo that didn’t succeed in the past to impress my childhood palate, turned into a personal favorite as an adult! I came to appreciate the exotic contrast between the salty note of the creamy cheese and the sweetness of the succulent ripe fruit. It happens that our food preferences change the more we travel and venture into different cuisines. We eventually mature, so does our palate.
To take this duo to the next level I added a fresh squeeze of lime juice, a vibrant sprinkle of julienned mint leaves, and a drizzle of extra version olive oil. Whole leaves of mint and wedges of lime are the right final touches to turn this salad into a feast to the eye as well to the palate.
I was thrilled that I included this childhood dish on our Fourth of July menu. The salad colors and its theme perfectly went well with spirit of the Fourth celebration. After all, that is the beauty of the American cultural collage.
Recipe inspired by a childhood Alexandrian summer snack Bateekh and Gebnah Beidah (Watermelon and feta).
Serves 6- 8
- Ripe water-melon peeled and chopped into triangles of 1 inch thickness
- 1/2 cup feta cheese
- 1 lime
- 1/4 cup mint leaves
- One tablespoon olive oil
- lime wedges and mint leaves for decoration
- Peel a ripe watermelon into triangles.
- Crumble the feta cheese and scatter them over the fruit triangles.
- Squeeze a lime over the entire salad
- Sprinkle the julienned mint.
- Decorate it with whole mint leaves and wedges of lime.
- Serve immediately while it is still cold.
- This salad wilts fast, so it is best served fresh and cold.
- There are some greek versions of this salad sprinkled with Duquah (ground spices and walnuts)