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For many years, when exiting the plane at the Athens International Airport, I used to see a gigantic photo of a watermelon and I thought it was such a wonderful reminder that I was indeed back home. It took me back to my childhood, when a slice of watermelon was reason for happiness on the hot summer days. Watermelon, karpoúzi, is such a staple of Greek summers, and even more so with extreme heat like they're experiencing this week. So refreshing, and with vitamins A, B6 and C, potassium, lycopene, antioxidants and amino acids, it's no wonder that most Greek tavernas offer it as a free dessert to top off lunch or dinner.
You can still find roadside sellers with open-bed trucks hawking their summer harvest. Watermelons are usually sold whole in Greece and they're big! My father would wait until August to buy the first watermelons - he used to say that they need the summer sun to become sweet and tasty. He'd tap them with his fingers, listening to the noise they'd make to decide if he would buy them or not, and then start haggling with the vendor.
A traditional way of enjoying watermelon is with pieces of fresh feta cheese, a wonderful combination of sweet fruit and salty protein that I realized was the same thinking behind Italian prosciutto e melone, which I discovered as an adult. More recently, innovative Greek chefs have taken the inspiration and played even more, adding capers, accompanying local charcuterie, and more.
I personally love to stick to tradition, mixing my watermelon with feta cheese, a drizzle of excellent olive oil, and some fresh mint leaves. It makes for a refreshing salad that we enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner on hot summer days. And if you are really adventurous, I dare you to add some sea fennel to your watermelon salad for even more of a savory twist! The most important thing is to use fresh ingredients - real Greek feta cheese (yes, it does make a huge difference in the taste!), a high quality extra virgin olive oil that will not create too acidic of a feeling or aftertaste, and fresh watermelon and mint. With just four simple ingredients, you'll have a new favorite summer dish - check out the video below, too!
4-5 cups cubed watermelon (remove the seeds if needed)
1 block of Greek feta cheese
1 tbsp of fresh mint
Place the watermelon into a large salad bowl.
Cut the block of feta in cubes or crumble it coarsely with your hands, adding to the bowl.
Drizzle with the olive oil and add the chopped mint leaves.
Mix gently to evenly coat the ingredients and chill until ready to eat.
Top with more fresh mint and enjoy!
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