July 9, 2013
Even though fruit and cheese tend to go together like soup and sandwich, the first time I saw watermelon and feta cheese paired on a menu it struck me as very odd.
Apples and cheddar? Sure. Pears and Stilton? You know it. But I was sure that watermelon was much too watery to stand up to the bold flavor of feta, no matter that everyone tends to love the interplay of sweet and salt in general, and that the combo is hugely popular in Egypt, Israel and throughout the Balkans.
Well, I was dead wrong. Watermelon and feta are a great match - and they are at the center of this salad.
With watermelon, feta and cucumber in place, I filled out the salad with some dark bitter greens - namely arugula - and fresh herbs. You're welcome to substitute watercress for the arugula, and any one of your favorite herbs for the mint and cilantro.
As for the onion, there's a way - if you have a little extra time - to abbreviate the lingering smell of it on your breath. Just soak the slices in a strainer set in a bowl of ice water for 15 minutes. Then drain and dry it and add it to the salad. The whole process not only tamps down onion breath, it also makes the little rascals crispier and crunchier, too.
The grilled pork tenderloin here plays the same role as the chicken or shrimp added to a Caesar salad - it turns a side dish into a meal. By the way, the tenderloin is one of the leaner cuts of pork. So long as you don't overcook it - and give it a bit of a rest before slicing - it will be tender and juicy.
Now to the dressing, which teams up feta and buttermilk. Given its ability to provide creaminess (and tang) to a recipe without adding a ton of fat, buttermilk is one of my favorite cheating ingredients. And the feta is so flavorful - and its texture so pleasurable - that I crumbled some extra onto the finished salad. At the end, you'll add some crunch in the form of homemade baked, whole-wheat pita croutons. These are so easy to make, I never bother with the packaged varieties, which are usually deep-fried and loaded with fat.
Voila, the perfect summer meal in a bowl. Refreshing and filling.
GRILLED PORK TENDERLOIN WITH WATERMELON-ARUGULA SALAD
Yield: 4 servings
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, divided 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1/3 cup buttermilk 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil Ground black pepper Two 6-inch whole-wheat pita pockets Olive oil cooking spray Kosher salt 1-pound pork tenderloin, trimmed 3 cups arugula 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves 2 cups cubed and seeded watermelon 1 cup cubed seedless cucumber
Heat grill to medium. Heat oven to 400 F.
While the grill and oven are heating, in a blender combine half of the feta, the lemon juice, buttermilk and olive oil. Blend until smooth. Season with pepper, then stir in the remaining feta. Set aside.
Split each pita pocket into 2 rounds. Spray the rough sides of each round lightly with the cooking spray, then sprinkle lightly with salt. Cut each round into 8 triangles. On a rimmed baking sheet arrange the triangles in a single layer. Bake on middle shelf of the oven until golden and crisp, about 8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Spray the pork with the olive oil spray, then season it lightly with salt and pepper. Grill it directly over the heat, turning it a quarter turn at a time, until a thermometer inserted at the thickest part registers 140 F to 145 F for medium, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer the pork to a plate, cover it loosely with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the arugula, onion, mint, cilantro, watermelon and cucumber. Add the pork juices from the resting pork to the feta dressing, whisking to incorporate.
Place a mound of the salad on each of 4 plates. Slice the pork crosswise into rounds 1/2 inch thick and arrange a quarter of the slices on top of each mound of salad. Drizzle the dressing on top of the pork, then divide the pita croutons between the plates. Serve immediately.