29 July 2009

Picnic in the Park

Every summer, I try to make it to at least a few of the free Concerts in the Park at the Chase Palm Park in Santa Barbara. These concerts are the place to be on Thursday evenings in July, and you're bound to run into several people you know. As the band plays, picnickers enjoy homemade (or take-out) suppers and dance on the grass...you can watch the kids play on the jungle gym or watch the jugglers and hoola-hoop dancers...or you can just recline on the lawn and enjoy libations and food...

Last night, some friends and I packed a picnic feast and went down to the park to hear Spencer the Gardener. Of course, we did not do take-out! I always look forward to sharing a meal with these friends--they are great cooks and have such creative ideas--and this concert was the perfect opportunity to let our imaginations go. Mary put together a delicious salad of wild rice, sauteed kale, and spicy Cajun sausage. I loved the bold colors of the salad; the black of the rice, the deep bright green of the kale, and the golden orange of the sausage were a feast for the eyes. Andy made a quinoa salad, starring tons of juicy ripe tomatoes from his garden. It was creamy and nutty and fresh all together.

One of my contributions to the picnic was a watermelon tomato salad. Sounds like an intriguing combination, right? Over the past couple years I've come across salad recipes featuring this interesting pair of fruits and have wondered what they would taste like together. So I decided to make a salad based on these two, and added in chunks of cucumber and fresh herbs for a punch of green color and cubed feta cheese for a sparkling white counterpoint. Dressed simply with a little lime juice, salt, and pepper, this salad was so easy to make, so refreshing on a summer evening, and I can't get enough! Truth be told, after making this the evening before the concert, I had a ton that just couldn't fit into the picnic container, and I was eating the leftovers up by the (ahem, large) spoonful! Oh, and then to drink up the juices that collected at the bottom of the salad bowl....

So, I think watermelon and tomatoes can work really well together. You should really try this combo yourself and see! And, if you're wondering about what to drink with this, Andy thinks this would be great paired with a pinot grigio or a dry riesling. And with some grilled fish and steamed haricot verts alongside, and you've got a great summer picnic!

Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Cucumber, Feta Cheese, and Fresh Herbs

1/4 (14 lb.) seedless watermelon, in 1/2-inch cubes
2 large tomatoes (about 1.5 lbs), in 1/2-inch cubes
1 hot house cucumber, unpeeled, in 1/2-inch cubes
4 oz. low fat feta cheese, diced, in 1/4-inch cubes
1/2 cup finely sliced Walla Walla onion (or other sweet onion)
1/2 bunch cilantro, stems included, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped mint
1/4 cup lime juice
salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and season to taste with plenty of salt and pepper. Can be made one day ahead; keep refrigerated. Serves 8.

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