Switzerland: Watermelon and Fennel Salad Recipe
by Jenn Oliver
Until recently, I didn’t know anyone did anything with a watermelon besides just cut it up and eat it. I mean, it’s already completely sweet, juicy, the pure essence of summer. Why mess with the perfection embodied in this pink fruit? The mere sight of a ripe watermelon evokes memories of childhoods past. For me, it evokes images of weeks at girl scout camp, running around outside, carefree, swimming in the lake, making new friends, riding horses…you get the idea.
But why not play, and see just where the flavor of this fruit can go? Have you ever thought about the flavors of this king of summertime snacks and how they would meld with other foods? I certainly hadn’t until Meeta challenged us Plate to Page alumni to photograph watermelon as a fun photography assignment — two photos — one raw, and one in a dish. Yes, a dish. Who puts watermelon in things? Ha, maybe it was time to change my perspective and open my eyes to other possibilities.
Perspective is a funny thing. Sometimes our first impressions have such a profound effect on us that we forget to look for other possibilities right in front of our noses. I think that’s why I like to go for walks and hikes, because all that time away from everything gives my mind space to think and breathe. And sometimes, I even get to get lost and freak out after sitting at a train station for 30 minutes until I figure out that the train only passes through on weekdays…
But no matter, getting lost is good for staying grounded. For realizing that there’s more to the world than what merely existed previously in your mind, and that a little adventure and spontaneity are good for the soul. But it’s good for adjusting your perspective too, literally and figuratively. Getting lost with my husband hiking was a fun excursion (and a good chance for us to practice some more français with the locals), but I also got to see my favorite mountains — those Alps which have taught me so much about life, the world, and my place in it, from a whole new perpective.
Normally, we try to get as close to the mountains as we can. Our hikes often commence from the very place where they rise up out of the Earth and display their natural wonder. From this vantage point, standing in their shadows, all one sees are the towering cliffs above, waterfalls streaming down to the land at our feet as we walk by the gurgling river that meanders through the valley it may have helped to carve. It’s not a bad place from which to admire a mountain range.
And yet if one gets up close and “personal” with the Alps, taking the trains and ski lifts to the top, one sees a vast array of topography and a completely different view. The mountains are no longer giant walls but wise old friends, who show you that your beautiful valley is just one of many, and all of a sudden rather small against their towering form that kisses the very heavens.
And even as I draw closer to home, they never quite leave the mind. From the rolling hills in my canton of Vaud, the Swiss Alps become but a faint blue memory on the horizon. The real star of the scene is what is green, luscious, and full of life — the mountains, a mere whisper in the haze behind the clouds. Here all is warm, vibrant, soaking up the precious sunlight and blanketing the land in a sea of emerald.
And yet those mountains are still there. Even in the distant background, they are ever-present. The manner in which they are perceived, however, depends on your own very personal perspective. Can one ever truly know a thing by seeing it through the one and only paradigm one is accustomed to using for making sense of the world? What if we change our perspective, and try to look at the familiar with new eyes? Then, what do we see?
With the mountains, I learn that I can see so many sides of beauty from such varying points of view — each one majestic and unique, but all still those same gorgeous Alps. And the same can be done for food. Take our familiar summer watermelon. It is sweet and bright in color; we all know this, but would it marry well with other flavors? Could we actually make a dish out of it, blended with other tastes of the season?
I decided to try, pairing it with fennel, whose anise notes I think go rather well with something sugary, and a little garlic & herbed goat cheese to help balance things out. A little fresh mint, olive oil, salt and pepper, and I had myself a watermelon salad I wouldn’t have thought to try in a million years. But you know what? It worked. And it worked well. I bought more fennel just to use up the other half of the watermelon. That’s how much I loved it.
And this salad was different. It didn’t conjure up the usual memories of running around in sprinklers on hot days in the sunshine; no, this was a bit more understated, a new perspective on a familiar food, and one I think I am coming to realize I like a lot. Like the mountains, it’s good to go at things a little differently from time to time, and remember that perfection can have many forms.
Switzerland: Watermelon and Fennel Salad Recipe
2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/4 of a small watermelon, rind trimmed and thinly sliced into triangles, seeds removed
Soft herbed chèvre or goat cheese
A few leaves mint, chiffonaded
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
Salt & pepper to taste
- Heat a large skillet with the scantest amount of olive oil on high heat and sear the slices of fennel until they brown, then remove from heat. This will caramelize them a bit and bring their natural sweetness out.
- On each plate arrange fennel slices and watermelon. Then crumble chèvre on top and garnish with mint.
- Drizzle a little olive oil on top and add salt & pepper to taste. Enjoy!
This recipe was originally published on Jenn Cuisine.
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