There are some people in the world you just don’t get along with. Nothing bad ever happened. There’s no drama to speak of. You just don’t mesh. That’s me and melons. We never made nice. Ever since I can remember I have eaten around the sad chunks of cantaloupe and honeydew in fruit salad and avoid the sample slices at the greenmarket. Melon? No thanks. I’ll take a peach, a nectarine, cherries, plums. Melons were for fruit cup chumps.
Then I ate the most perfectly lovely melon salad ever.
My visit to France was totally never meant to happen. I mean, I was pushing strollers in leafy brownstone Brooklyn with a neighbor who couldn’t stop gushing about how excited she was to visit her family in France. The South of France, near Grenoble, in Uriage-les-Bains, a small town known for their thermal springs. She said offhandedly (and in a French accent), “Raquel, you and Julian should come too! Stay with us, we will have a great time!” Little did she know that I would take her invite seriously, run home, and book my nearly one-year-old and I on a miles-purchased Lufthansa flight to Lyon post-haste.
I told her I got the ticket. “Really?” she said with shock. “Really?” she repeated.
A few months later, there Julian and I were, getting picked up by her dad in his old toasty meringue-colored pickup truck at the airport in Lyon. We drove south to the Chartreuse Mountains where her gingerbread home was perched on a rise overlooking the limestone-faced slabs of the southern Jura range.
The air was pristine, clear, fresh. The hills dotted with wild flowers and tall grass. A generous vegetable garden flanked one side of the house. A kiddie pool on the other. “You left this for Brooklyn?” I said in disbelief. She shrugged.
My son ate his first chocolate croissant in Saint-Marcellin (yes, where the yummy runny-ripe ceramic-cradled cheese is from). We went to the museum of the walnut. We hung out with swans and ate crêpes in Grenoble. Homemade boeuf bourguignon, roasted just-dug potatoes from the garden, local wine, fresh baked bread every morning slathered with butter and maman’s home-preserved berry confiture were but a few perks. One afternoon we drove to my friend’s brother’s house and he prepared a gorgeous salad of fresh mozzarella cheese, diced prosciutto, chopped basil, and cantaloupe. It turned my suppositions about melon upside down. Before I could say charentais I was converted. Melon was obviously more than worthy of my undivided attention. It deserved to be showcased as more than just fruit cup filler.
That melon dish opened me to a world of savory melon salads. Whether using watermelon, cantaloupe, or honeydew, my tactic is to buzz up fresh tender herbs like basil, cilantro, or mint with water to make an herb water “dressing.” It’s like the brightest expression of herbs but in liquid form (and it happens in like 30 seconds). The herb water effortlessly brightens every melon chunk, adhering in little bits to its slopes, and infuses every inch of the melon with its fresh breath.
In this recipe, I finish honeydew chunks with an herb water of basil, cilantro, and mint (even using one herb solo would work just as well). I add crumbled feta, the perfect salty bump-and-grind to honeydew’s sweetness, and then a chopped avocado for a smooth, buttery bite. A sprinkle of flaky salt and a healthy drizzle of olive oil over the top contribute essential savory notes. The last key is lime squeezed over the top to wake everything up. Melon salad can be modern. Interesting. Delicious. Just don’t call it a fruit cup.
Summer Honeydew and Herb Salad with Feta, Avocado, and Lime
1 honeydew melon, ends trimmed, halved, seeds scooped out
1/2 cup fresh basil, cilantro, or mint (or a combination of the herbs)
1/4 pound feta cheese
1 avocado, halved, pitted, and finely chopped
A few pinches flakey sea salt
2 to 3 tablespoons good, fruity olive oil
1 lime, halved
Set the honeydew on a cutting board so the concave scooped-out part faces down. Using a sharp knife, trim away the rind working in strips from top to bottom and letting your knife follow the white edge of the melon that separates the rind from the fruit. Slice the melon into small chunks and place in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Place the herbs in the bowl of a small food processor or into a blender jar. Add 1/4 cup of water and blend until very well processed and mostly smooth (you may have to add up to 3 more tablespoons of water depending on your food processor or blender). Set aside.
Take the honeydew out of the refrigerator. Pour the herb dressing over the top and use your hands to toss to combine. Scatter the feta and avocado over the honeydew and barely lift up the bottom layer of honeydew to combine. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt followed by a healthy drizzle of olive oil (I like 3 tablespoons, but 2 works fine). Squeeze a lime half over the top and serve with more lime wedges on the side.