If you’ve been looking for a quick, refreshing salad that can wow your guests any day of the week, then look no further than the karpouzi salata (watermelon salad). It’s a popular summer dish that you may have already tried at a picnic or even in your own home. Or maybe you’ve seen it on Instagram and became dizzy looking at the juicy karpouzi (watermelon) mixed with salty feta cheese, only to notice seconds later that your phone is dripping in drool. Or maybe you haven’t even heard of it and you’re wondering how karpouzi and feta can even taste good together, as a salad nonetheless. I wondered the same thing for many years.
I used to run faster from karpouzi and feta than I did from my yiayia’s koutala (grandmother’s 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 fine Greek meal, and the word shouted along peponia (melon) by local vendors on the streets of Athens. “Karpouzi! Peponia! Karpouzi!”are words that ring in my ear whenever I think of eating karpouzi—or while lugging off another 15-pound monster to the cash register. Karpouzi and feta were like cats and dogs to me and I never believed they could or should be eaten as one.
Here’s the thing—I don’t like when different foods touch each other. Yes, I’m one of those finicky eaters that 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 Styrofoam plates that divide the plate into three sections to ensure no amount of gravy or avgolemeno sauce leaks into my salad or pasta or whatever is in the section next to it. I would make sure the runny tomato juices of fasolakia would be as far away from my crispy tyropita as possible and you definitely would never catch me putting a garden fruit and a cheese from a farm animal on or near the same plate.
But, two years ago I became a karpouzi and feta lover. Together—on one fork. I was serving as a staff member at Ionian Village and we were sitting down for a meal together like we had many times before. It was a standard Greek meal: lots of meat, pasta, salad and fruit, all prepared by the incredible camp cook, Kyria Sophia. We were enjoying the meal and laughing and having a great time. 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. Then she ate the two together and obviously enjoyed it. 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 a refreshing salad. In Greek recipe books you’ll find many variations of this dish, such as adding thinly sliced red onions, tomatoes or cucumbers mixed in for a fuller salad. Mine is much simpler. This karpouzi salata combines just karpouzi as the main ingredient and tossed with feta and fresh mint leaves. I know—not original. But I drizzle mine in a sweet balsamic reduction as the dressing. Balsamic reductions may call for sugar for sweetness—I use Cretan honey for that special sweet Greekness.
Pick yourself up 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—this karpouzi salata is a must try. Just make sure you Instagram your dish so we can all drool over the image.
- 1 seedless watermelon, chilled and cut into bite sized chunks
- 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled (I prefer the brand Dodoni)
- ½ cup fresh mint leaves
- 1 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-inch bite sized chunks. Place into large bowl.
- Combine crumbled feta and mint leaves into bowl and mix together.
- Drizzle balsamic reduction over salad and serve immediately.