Minted melon with aged goats cheese and fennel salad

06 February 2018

Minted melon with aged goats cheese and fennel salad

Everybody needs a few staple dishes that they make so often they forget where they came from and, over the years, they hardly even notice how they gradually adapt them to fit their preferences. This is one such dish, and it has become my go-to salad.

I’ve had a lifelong love-hate relationship with salads. Maybe because I was brought up with the most boring salads imaginable. A barely-ripe tomato, some lettuce, and chunkily-sliced cucumber plonked on a plate, alongside the most awful cheap block cheese imaginable made bearable only by a dollop of Branston’s pickle. And it wasn’t just when I was growing up that this was the definition of salad. Soon after leaving home I became vegetarian - in a Britain where such a choice meant there was one meal, and one meal only, you would be likely to find in any cafe (if you were lucky). Yep, cheese salad. Pay heed all you young vegans of 2018 - you have no idea how cushy you have it.

Obviously and thankfully, the food culture in the UK changed, and it wasn’t too long before I began to get exposed to lots of other, more interesting, possibilities. And once I stopped being vegetarian some 23 years later, the options opened out even more. But you’re imprinted indelibly with your earliest experiences, and whenever I was peckish it somehow just never occurred to me that what I really fancied at that moment was a salad.

Sliced melon

I developed a few staple salads because when I discovered one that I really liked, it was well worth hanging onto. I’m talking about flavour first and foremost, but also colour, a contrast in textures, and something substantial enough that you feel satisfied at the end. Not all salads meet that criteria even in these enlightened times.

This one does. The melon with the mint is light and refreshing, but the tangy aged goats cheese provides extra levels of flavour - a nice salty and savoury kick. That’s then complemented by thinly sliced crispy fennel for that crunch and the hint of aniseed. It’s a great combination that I’ve made again and again.

And I do now sometimes get peckish and actually fancy a salad. But only because of this - and a small-but-growing repertoire of other dishes that redefined for this child of the 1970’s what it means to eat a salad.

Minted melon, fennel, aged goats cheese salad

Minted melon with aged goats cheese and fennel salad

You want the aged goats cheese here. The standard goats cheese you’ll get is too soft, creamy and one-note flavour to really work. If you can’t get aged goats cheese, then substitute feta. It’s what pulls the whole dish together.

Serves: 4
Ingredients

1 charantais or cantaloupe melon
150g aged goats cheese
1 fennel bulb
1 bunch fresh mint, leaves picked
1 handful mixed salad leaves
30ml extra virgin olive oil
30ml sunflower or groundnut oil
20ml white wine vinegar
Squeeze of lemon juice
30ml Dijon mustard

Instructions

Remove the bottom part of the fennel and then slice very finely, preferably with a mandolin. Put the sliced fennel into a bowl of cold water for 10-15 minutes.

Peel and chop the melon into chunks, about a centimetre square. Put the mixed salad leaves into a bowl and mix with the melon. Lightly chop the mint leaves and add them to the bowl as well. Use plenty - if you’ve bought a pack from a supermarket put it all in. 

Make the vinaigrette. Combine the oils and the vinegar with the mustard and whisk, or blend, until emulsified. Add a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper and whisk until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning as required.

Remove the fennel from the water and pat dry. Add to the bowl. Just before serving, pour over the vinaigrette and toss the salad to coat the leaves and other elements. Then crumble the goats cheese on top and serve.

Food waste notes

If you’re serving less than four, you’ll likely have half a melon left. You can wrap this in clingfilm and it will keep for 3 days or more in the fridge. If you’re not going to use it in that time (and you should plan ahead so you know what you’re going to do with it, otherwise we both know you’re probably not going to) then you can freeze it for future use in smoothies or something similar. The flesh will be too soft after thawing to be used as fresh.

You’ll probably have more lemon juice left. Squeeze it into a couple of ice cube compartments and then you’ll have lemon juice to add to dishes whenever you need.

If you have any salad leaves left over, line a plastic container with paper towels, put the lettuce on the top in an even layer and add another layer of paper towels before closing the lid. This should keep the leaves fresh reliably for 7 days. (Props to The Kitchn for that tip )