This simple melon and cucumber salad is hands down my favorite dish of the summer. It’s crisp and sweet and juicy and salty and I just can’t seem to get enough of it right now.
August is a funny month, and that’s why I love it. Feelings of anxiety and relief start overlapping in the strangest way. The days are noticeably shorter, the weather a bit cooler, and we feel pressured to do all the summering we can for the next three weeks, because after that, it’s all over until next year. Let’s sip rose on the deck, dine al fresco, lounge on the beach, linger in the late daylight, smell the flowers, bask in the humid air, and eat all of the summer produce.
And there is SO much produce to be eaten. If only our big harvest season could be spaced throughout the year. Like, one month we could have tomatoes, then the next month eggplant, and after that zucchini, then cucumbers, etc., etc. But instead, at least here in New Jersey, it all comes barreling in at once. There’s a lot of pressure to use up every last bit and enjoy it all right now. It’s not ideal, but it’s part of what makes late summer so special.
I’m really into melons right now, which I realize is a fairly nerdy statement to make. I’ve given up on growing them this year, since they always take over the garden and never seem to produce anything worth eating. Instead, I seek them out like a mad woman at farmers markets, giving each one a good visual exam and a strong sniff before I make my selection. A nice, ripe melon should smell sweet and fruity. It should feel heavy for it’s size and it shouldn’t feel hard as a rock. Pretty much any sweet summer melon will work nicely in this salad, but I’ve really been feeling the cantaloupe lately.
Not only have the cantaloupes been especially flavorful this year, the contrasting orange hue gives such a nice look to the overall dish. Cool, crisp cucumber makes a perfect match for the sweet melon, and luckily my garden is overflowing with them right now. A few salty shards of feta helps to bring out all the flavors and adds a bit of creaminess, but a cheese-less vegan version is actually pretty good too (just go a little heavier on the salt). Fresh mint is lovely, and happens to be my preference, but so is basil, cilantro, and even dill.
I use my handy dandy mandolin slicer to make thin, even slices of the cucumber, melon, and red onion, but a sharp knife will do ya just fine. You can honestly make the chunks as little or as big as you’d like – it really doesn’t matter. I love the bite of raw onion, however many do not, and in certain applications – like this one – it really can overpower everything else. To curb that, I like to slice the onion super thin, then place it under cold, running water for about 30 seconds. It really helps to deflame and take out that burning sting, making for milder pieces of onion that still retain their crisp, raw crunch.
This is the kind of rustic, forgiving, minimalist salad that is so essential on these humid August days when we’re all just doing our best to live in the moment and soak up as much summer as we can.
One Year Ago: Thai Shaved Summer Squash Salad, Savory Peach Galette with Blue Cheese and Caramelized Shallots
Two Years Ago: Blueberry Peach Crostata, Heirloom Tomato and Feta Toasts
Three Years Ago: For the Love of Tomatoes
Four Years Ago: Pan Con Tomate
- 1/4 small red onion
- 1 medium-large cucumber, cold, peeled and seeded only if needed
- 1/4 medium cantaloupe or other ripe summer melon, cold, seeded and removed from the rind
- flaky sea salt
- 1/2 lemon, squeezed
- best quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling
- fresh mint, torn
- 2 ounces feta cheese, sliced or crumbled
- Use a mandoline or sharp knife to slice the onion as thin as possible. Place in a strainer and run under cold water for about 30 seconds. Drain, then add to a medium-large bowl.
- Thinly slice the cucumber and add it to the bowl. Slice the cantaloupe, but not as thin as the cucumber, and add to the bowl. Season with salt, then squeeze lemon juice all over. Drizzle generously with olive oil, then toss well to combine. Top with torn mint leaves and feta. Serve immediately.
- For a dairy free / vegan version, omit the feta, but season a little more generously with salt.