If you’ve been looking for a quick, refreshing salad that is perfect on any summery day of the week, then look no further than KARPOUZI SALATA (watermelon salad). You may already have tried this popular summer dish at a picnic. Or maybe you’ve seen it on Instagram and felt dizzy just looking at the juicy karpouzi (kar-POU-zee) mixed with salty feta cheese only to notice that your phone is dripping in drool. My best guess is that if you haven’t heard of karpouzi salata you’re wondering how feta ever made it into the same bowl as watermelon. Talk about the odd couple. I wondered the same thing for many years.
To be honest, I used to run faster from karpouzi and feta than I did from my yiayia’s koutala (her wooden spanking spoon). Feta was supposed to be eaten with olives, or topped on Greek salads, or stuffed in phyllo pies. Karpouzi was the mouth-watering fruit served to you after a picnic. The word is shouted along with peponia (melon) by local vendors in markets all over Greece: “Karpouzi! Peponia! Karpouzi!” Their cries ring in my ears whenever I lug another 15-pound pink-and-green monster to the cash register. Karpouzi and feta were like cats and dogs to me, and I never believed they could or should be left alone together.
Here’s why—I don’t like it when different foods touch each other. Yes, I’m one of those finicky eaters who cringe at the sight of drastically different foods sharing the same time zone. I think one of the greatest inventions ever made is the plate divider. You know, those picnic plates that have three sections to ensure no amount of gravy or avgolemono sauce leaks into my salad or pasta or whatever is in the section next to it. I keep the runny tomato juices of fasolakia (green beans stew) as far away from my crispy tiropita (cheese pie)as possible. A garden fruit and a cheese from a farm animal on or near the same plate? Oh, po po!
Eventually I became a karpouzi and feta lover. Together—on one fork. I had the great good fortune to serve as a staff member at Ionian Village, an amazing summer camp in Greece. We were dining together like we had many times before, devouring a standard Greek meal with lots of meat, pasta, salad and fruit, all prepared by the incredible camp cook, Kyria Sophia. Laughter almost outweighs the edibles at a luncheon like this. Towards the end of the meal, one staff member took her feta cheese from her salad and moved her fork to the dish loaded with karpouzi and stabbed a juicy piece with her feta-filled fork. She ate the two together and smiled a crooked smile. I was so shocked I gave it a try too. And I liked it. And then I had it again. And again. And again.
My time in Greece hasn’t convinced me to retire the plate dividers just yet but it has left a great taste in my mouth for karpouzi and feta. I have since added a few more ingredients to the two for an irresistibly refreshing salad. This karpouzi salata tosses chunks of red watermelon with feta and fresh mint leaves. I know—not original. But I drizzle mine in a sweet balsamic reduction—and what a dressing it is! Instead of sugar, I use Cretan honey for that special, sweet Greekness.
Pick a karpouzi from that local street vendor if you’re lucky enough to be in Greece, or grab one from the nearby grocery store if not. I swear, your karpouzi salata will make us drool all over your perfect shot on Instagram.
- 1 watermelon, chilled and cut into bite-sized chunks
- 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- ½ cup fresh mint leaves
- ¾ cup balsamic vinegar
- ¼ cup honey
- For the balsamic reduction, add balsamic vinegar and honey to a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat and let simmer until the mixture reduces by half. Simmering should be about 12-15 minutes. Take off heat and let cool.
- Cut the rind off the watermelon, and chop into 1” bite-sized chunks. Place into large bowl.
- Combine crumbled feta and mint leaves into bowl and mix together.
- Drizzle balsamic reduction over salad as needed and serve immediately.