Where I work, there are a small handful of men who occasionally begin their sentences with the phrase "In my village..."
"In my village, we have a festival." "In my village, we would never treat an octopus in such a way."
These men can get away with saying such things as easily as they can get away with calling women "baby" because they are Greek. They have the accent, they have an old world charm about them that clings like the smell of clove and stale cigarette smoke.
And I have always been a little bit jealous. If I were to ever pepper my sentences with the words "In my village..." People would most likely assume it was Greenwich Village. And I can just forget about using the word "baby." Ever.
Well, I can get away with things they can't, too, like speaking only in Sondheim lyrics. And giving Greeks a hard time about, well, being so damned Greek. But it's only because I love them, I really do.
We clearly have our differences, but that is something I cherish. For example, in my childhood village of Anaheim, summer outings often included salads made from fresh Jell-o and organic, vine-ripened mini-marshmallows from my neighbors' gardens.
In the villages of my Greek co-workers, however, one will find strange, unnatural combinations. Things like tomatoes and cucumbers or, ripe watermelon and feta cheese.
They are crazy people, these Greeks.
Crazy good, I mean.
If you haven't tried this flavor combination, then you have not tasted summer. I know, that sounds like bad advertising copy, which is why I remain poor, but it's true, nevertheless.
Give it a go this weekend. I mean it. You'll thank me for it later, baby.
Karpouzi me Feta (Watermelon Salad)
Serves whoever, wherever and as many as you need.
I've brought this dish to a few picnics in my day. The initial reaction to it is usually one of strange curiosity. Watermelon and, what? Feta? How interesting. I would never have thought to pair watermelon with cheese.
Well, I'm glad somebody did.
This is such a pleasantly simple dish to make. And it takes about five minutes to create a big bowl or platterful. The watermelon, which smacks of summertime, offers a bit of sweet refreshment and hydration, while the cheese lends a bit of salty protein. And the olive oil, of course, gives you a shiny, healthy-looking coat. It is the perfect antidote to drinking alcohol in the hot sun and, therefore, the perfect Fourth of July picnic salad-- all Red, White, and Green, just like the American flag is to the marginally colorblind.
One of the best things about this recipe is that there really is no recipe, just a list of ingredients. You want a lot of cheese? Go for it. Lots of olive oil? Absolutely. And let it dribble down your chest a little and rub it in for a deep, dark, Bain de Soleil-like golden tan. Delicious.
1 small, ripe seedless (or not) watermelon, rind removed and cut into reasonably-sized cubes
Feta cheese. Good feta. Greek Feta. From Epiros, if possible. Cubed or crumbled.
Good olive oil. Extra virgin. No, it does not have to be Greek.
Fresh basil, torn into small pieces. Or even oregano.
Toasted pine nuts or pumpkin seeds. I thought pumpkin seeds were an inspired choice given the pumpkin's shape and vine-grown status. That, and the fact that the pine nut bin at the store had been ravaged by the time I got there.
1. On a picnic platter or other, preferred serving dish, place cubed watermelon.
2. Crumble the feta over the watermelon, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle the mass with herb-of-choice and nut/seed-of-choice.
3. Serve immediately.
4. Watch the he-men crow and sweat over their grills while you kick back, have a drink, and accept compliments about your brilliant salad.