Watermelon Mint Salad

Watermelon mint salad

Bite into a watermelon slice in August and... uf. It's the epitome of summer: sweet, juicy, refreshing. This salad is that and more. It has few ingredients, so get the best quality (and ripest) of each. Substitute as needed: no avocado oil? Use good quality olive oil. No mint? Dill works, and even basil for more of a savory salad.

Let's talk salt. Chemically speaking, all salt is pretty much the same (table salt has some additives, sea salt has traces of other good-for-you minerals). What really distinguishes them is the physical makeup. Plain table salt is uniform cubes, kosher salt are small pyramid-like flakes, and sea salt come in a variety of large flakes and shapes (look closely and you can spot the maldon flakes in the picture).

Maldon salt and other sea salts are ingredients by themselves, providing flavor, texture, visual appeal and color (from white to pink to black). Think of them as a finisher and part of the presentation: if you get a morsel in your bite, you are in for an interesting briny release and crunch. Maldon sea salt is especially texture, the large flakes give it a great texture which pairs perfectly with the moist watermelon. Grab a pinch and lightly crush between your fingers as you sprinkle on top. You can use this or any other sea salt.

For general cooking, I favor kosher salt: because of its irregular size it dissolves slowly and eases into your taste buds. Table salt on the other hand, with its many tiny salt cubes, attack them at the same time. You can use kosher salt in this dish if that's all you have - BUT - this is one where you should really go with sea salt. As for table salt... I can't remember the last time I used it, other than salting a glass for a cocktail.

In the salad, allow each ingredients to shine: don't over do the lime juice (ahem, Mexicans...), or the oil. I usually caveat the spice in recipes by explaining "I'm Mexican and love spice" but here the charred jalapeño is used in such a small amount I'd recommend leaving it as is.

Ingredients: 1 kilo (~2.3 lbs) watermelon, about 1/4 of a whole (seedless is easier) 1/2 medium sized lime (~1 whole small) 1 jalapeño pepper 1 tablespoon avocado oil, divided (sub good quality olive oil) bunch fresh mint leaves pinch maldon sea salt flakes

Heat a small pan over medium-high heat. Place whole jalapeño pepper and char lightly on each side (you will hear it sizzle). Take care it keeps a vibrant green color and only blackens a bit. You want to keep its crunch and structural integrity. If you over-toast it, it will become soft: it will still taste good but won't provide the desired texture (see image below). Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

As jalapeño toasts, cut watermelon cross-wise into 1/2 an inch slices. Remove peel and rind from each slice. Cut into uniform small cubes, removing seeds if needed. Set aside.

Divide watermelon into two plates. Squeeze lime on top of each, dividing evenly. If desired, grate some lime zest over plates.

Choose small mint leaves from the top of stems and place between watermelon cubes and around plate, between 10-15 per plate. If you only have large leaves, roll-up about 8 leaves into a "straw" (lengthwise) and cut them cross-wise into thin ribbons (called chiffonade). Divide evenly and sprinkle on top of watermelon on each plate.

Cut off top of cooled jalapeño, then split in 2 lengthwise, exposing inner veins and seeds. Carefully scrape them off. Cut jalapeño into small squares, and divide between plates.

Drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of oil over salad per plate. Take a pinch of sea salt and crush lightly as you sprinkle on top of each salad.

Serves 2 as a side

Slightly charred jalapeños

Charred jalapeño

Close up on salad

Watermelon Mint Salad, close up

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