Watermelon, Feta & Arugula Salad

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews 

A lovely legacy for summer from my friend Daphne Zepos

Last week would have been my late friend Daphne Zepos’ 64th birthday. This week I will be at the American Cheese Society where the Daphne Zepos Teaching Scholarship, established in 2012, will be awarded in her honor. Daphne, without question, moved through the world with exceptional grace. Not perfectly, of course. I smile now when I say that sometimes her grace was tempered by her temper. Daphne died on the 3rd of July, 2012. This salad is one of the many gifts she gave me that still bring joy on a regular basis. (For much more on Daphne, see the Epilogue in Part 3. If you’re dealing with loss, as I was after Daphne died 11 years ago this month, it might be of help). Looking at the history, Daphne was born the day before Bastille Day and she died the day before the 4th of July. Like Friedrich Schiller, she entered and left the world with freedom close at hand and close to her heart.

This salad of arugula, watermelon, and really fine feta cheese was one of Daphne’s favorites. Given all of what I said above and the fact that arugula and watermelon have both been at the local markets this month, it seemed too fitting not to include it here this week. It’s easy to make and wonderful to eat, a summery taste of the Mediterranean that you can put together here in southeastern Michigan (or wherever you live) in a matter of minutes!

The salad is a lovely coming together of a trio of seemingly disparate ingredients. The peppery green leaves of fresh arugula, the sweet, fresh liveliness of the watermelon, and the creamy tang of feta are near-perfect counterpoints. Each brings its own personality, and each makes the others better for its presence. All three play well together and all three are amazing on their own. Daphne’s grace-full and poetic description of the salad will probably give you as good a sense of who she was as anything else I can tell you. Here’s what she sent me when I asked her many years ago to send me her favorite salad:

The salad is like a pyrotechnic.
Watermelon and sheep feta sitting on a few leaves of mature peppery arugula.
My sister’s green olive oil from the island of Zakinthos.
Cracked black pepper.
4 black olives. They are all floating in the air. No plate. No fork. 

If you’re feeling creative and inspired, run, free-form, with Daphne’s deliciously poetic instructions. With your creativity connecting with hers, I’m confident you’ll come up with something spectacular. It’s easy to put together. Fresh cubes of watermelon, crumbled-up feta, fresh leaves of arugula, strips of roasted red pepper, and a few walnuts … along with a few black olives if you like. Dress with olive oil, a sprinkle of sea salt, and a good bit of freshly ground black pepper. Fresh mint leaves or fresh (not dried!) basil leaves are a lovely addition as well. Toss and serve. It looks lovely and tastes terrific.