Watermelon, Lychee, Feta, and Basil Salad with Spicy Lemongrass Vinaigrette


[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

About a decade ago, watermelon, feta, and mint salads started popping up on restaurant menus. It's that whole sweet-salty-refreshing thing that makes, say, cantaloupe and prosciutto so damn edible, or figs stuffed with goat cheese tough to resist.

A few years after that, the magazines and recipe blogs all started picking it up, and now it's pretty much everywhere.

This is not a bad thing. Sweet, juicy watermelon, salty tangy feta, and just a hint of herbs in a light vinaigrette is one of my favorite summertime salads. When I feel like getting real crazy, I may even throw in some pickled red onions, or a hot pepper or two. Those nights generally end up with someone asking, "has anyone seen my underwear?" Yeah, that's what pickled onions and watermelon can do to a person.

For a slightly more demure-yet-exotic take on the salad, I like to combine the fresh watermelon with intensely sweet and syrupy lychees. The two fruits couldn't be more different from each other, the watermelon grainy and watery, the lychee slippery and chewy, yet with a nice savory vinaigrette with a hint of heat, a touch of lemongrass, and a drop or two of soy sauce, they come together in a great way. Feta cheese is a must.

While any old herb will do—try cilantro, parsley, or mint, for instance—basil is a fine choice. The whole thing comes together in 5 minutes, which is about all the work I want to do in the summertime.