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WATERMELON + FETA SALAD WITH FRESH HERBS AND SUMAC

Posted Aug 21 2010 12:00am
After living abroad for almost two months, I’ve now returned home to San Francisco.  At the risk of sounding absurdly sentimental, I must tell you -  I was literally in tears when I got off the plane at SFO.  It was at that moment I realized how much I’ve fallen in love with this city.  I am so grateful for everything it has to offer: sweet, passionate people; yoga studios around every corner; cold, cozy weather (yes, I consider this a positive attribute); gorgeous mountain, beach, hot spring, vineyard, you-name-it escapes within twenty miles of any doorstep; and amazing, fresh produce year-round.  On second thought, those tears of elation don’t seem so silly after all.  
After a big burrito from one of my favorite taquerias and eleven hours of sleep, I was ready to return the the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market .  It’s chaotic and cold, but it has to be one of my favorite places to visit.  Where else can you get fish tacos and a perfectly prepared canelé?  You’d be hard-pressed to find another long line for bacon-topped burgers at 9 o’clock in the morning.  There are four spots to get your Blue Bottle fix.  Four!  And due to the nature of Bay Area micro-climates, strawberries, heirloom tomatoes, apples, cabbage and cucumbers are sold side-by-side.  For me, happiness is a Saturday morning full of cold red noses, caffeinated conversation, the drone of poorly executed harmonica music, heavy melon-filled bags, crowded halls where complete strangers share their weekend dining plans and hours happily sorting and storing an abundance of fresh produce.  
The first Saturday back at the Ferry Building was an especially long one; I think we were shopping and eating for well over three hours (we’re always reminded of how long we’ve been gone, when we return to the car and see the overpriced parking bill).  By the time I unloaded all of our bags, Mike and I had fiercely growling stomachs.  I jumped at the opportunity to make a simple summer salad, using one of the most perishable ingredients I’d just purchased - buckwheat sprouts.  I lightly tossed them with a handful of fresh, fragrant herbs and scattered the greens across slices of juicy yellow watermelon, shallot and Persian cucumber, halved kalamata olives and shards of aged feta.  A vinaigrette of preserved lemon, cumin and sumac balanced the saltiness and pungency of the cheese, olives and onions.  It was the perfect light snack after a breakfast of chilaquiles , lavender-yogurt cake and rich cafés au lait.



WATERMELON + FETA SALAD WITH FRESH HERBS AND SUMAC
I’ve written this recipe exactly as I made it.  However, if the following ingredients are not available at your market or grocery store, substitute freely without fear (I also made notes regarding good substitutes below).  The most important thing to consider is quality and freshness - buy the best you can.  
SERVES 2-3 as a light lunch or first course
INGREDIENTS
Vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 large shallots, sliced (or spring onions)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1 , pulp removed, peel finely diced (there is really no substitute here, but you can by them or make them yourself )
1/4 teaspoon
3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salad:
1/4 yellow watermelon, sliced into bite-sized pieces, seeds removed (honestly, I didn’t break out the scale for this - just eyed it)
3 small Persian or Armenian cucumbers, thinly sliced (if you can’t find these varieties, you may need to peel and seed the cukes - taste and decide)
1 1/2 cups lightly packed (a big ol’ handful) buckwheat sprouts (sunflower sprouts would be delicious as well)
2 cups lightly packed fresh herbs: parsley, mint, cilantro
about a dozen kalamata olives, pitted and halved
3 ounces aged sheep’s milk feta, broken into rough pieces
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
DIRECTIONS
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, shallots, cumin, preserved lemon, sumac, a pinch of salt and a couple grinds of black pepper.  Allow the shallots to sit in the vinegar while you prepare the remaining salad ingredients.  Whisk in olive oil and adjust seasoning to taste; set aside.
On a large platter (for family style serving) or in individual serving bowls, scatter a layer of watermelon and cucumber. top with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Scatter sprouts and herbs on top, followed by feta, olives, pine nuts and a drizzle of the vinaigrette.  Continue to layer ingredients in this fashion until everything has been used.  Serve immediately - herbs and sprouts wilt quickly.

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