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Watermelon, feta salad a fave for 4th

A few fresh takes on summer salads fill this week’s food section.

To writer Jim Flint’s recipes for broccoli salad, Mexican pasta salad and melon cucumber salad, I’ll add one of my seasonal favorites. This one is on its way to becoming a classic.

For more than a decade, Internet searches (according to Google Trends) spike every July for watermelon and feta cheese salads. One taste, and you’ll know why.

With just a few ingredients, it’s nevertheless a distinct flavor profile. But be sure to use the best-quality, ripe melon (preferably Oregon grown) and feta. I love Israeli-style sheep’s milk feta, which stays firm. Whatever type you choose, don’t crumble it too finely. You want hearty chunks.

Yellow watermelon could be used. But red arguably is the most visually striking. Throw in a few fresh blueberries, and you’ve got the red, white and blue theme covered.

This salad is ready to serve if the melon is chilled before cutting. Or use a melon baller, as Jim advocated. Save any extra melon for a smoothie or salad dressing (another tip from Jim)

Because mint oxidizes and turns dark quickly after it is cut or torn, add it just before assembling and serving the salad. And taste the feta to see how salty it is before you add salt to the dressing.

Cube or ball the melon up to two days ahead of time. Drain off and reserve any juice that may have collected in the bottom before assembling the salad. Then add that juice to some sparkling water, chilled white wine or clear liqueur. Cheers!

AP photo

WATERMELON FETA SALAD

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons good balsamic or red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Freshly ground pepper, to taste (optional)

6 cups cubed or balled watermelon, chilled

1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

1 1/2 cups diced or crumbled feta cheese

1/3 cup whole mint leaves

In a small bowl or container, combine the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, if using.

In a large shallow bowl or serving platter, spread a layer of half of the watermelon cubes or balls, then sprinkle half of the onions over it, then the feta. Tear half of the mint leaves into large pieces, and sprinkle over feta. Repeat with another layer of watermelon, onions, feta and mint.

Shake or stir the dressing to re-combine, and pour it evenly over salad. Serve chilled.

Makes 6 servings.

VARIATIONS: Change out the mint for another herb (try chervil, basil or thyme). Add 1 to 2 cups diced, seeded cucumber. Replace the feta with crumbled goat cheese, diced fresh mozzarella, or ricotta salata. Add a few handfuls of peppery arugula leaves.