Summer has been my favorite season since I knew that seasons existed.
Partly due to the fact that I come from a state that is known for unbearable cold. A cold so harsh that your tears freeze to your cheeks. A time where it is more common to see your breath in the air than the actual sun. Where running to your car without slipping on ice is a sport. Throwing caution to the wind and using the old hot water on the windshield trick to dig through the layers of glittering ice, wondering if you will ever actually reach glass.
It was always a coin toss if we Wisconsinites would enjoy a spring that year, so the hot breath of summer is a celebration in its own. Want to know what pure joy feels like? Walk along the lake shore in Milwaukee on the first hot day of the year. Children laughing, music blaring, plenty of people walking around in their rarely used summer clothes. More than happy to enjoy the sweat drops gathering on their skin.
Summer is a holiday in Wisconsin, and no one does it better than Milwaukeeans. Summerfest (ahem-World’s largest music festival thankyouverymuch), State fair (cream puffs and Olympic level people watching), our ever famous and never-ending church festivals (an excuse to drink quickly warming beer and win a $1 fish), Jazz in the Park...and not to forget Bradford beach’s close to X-rated volleyball matches. Days filled with lake activities, sun soaked and salty, ending with pretty much any excuse you can find to have the best bonfire and cold brews.
I moved away from all of that to a city that literally has summer-like weather all year round. And you know what? I still can’t shake the excitement of those first summer days. There is this feeling that is instilled in you when you are from the Midwest. Summer means warm feelings, butterflies in the tummy, cheek-burning grins, anxious for something that doesn’t exactly have a definition.
It just is.
Summer is the best time of the year, and the produce proves just that. All over the country, farmer’s markets and supermarkets alike are bursting with the colors of the season. Cherry red tomatoes, lemon drop drenched summer squash, fragrant herbs, lined up waiting for use.
And the watermelon.
Lord, the watermelon.
The juiciest, not overly sweet watermelon perfection. Every summer of my entire life, it has been a constant on the table. As a child my grandmother would put out a gigantic platter of the fruit, I would gleefully dig in, admittedly, making a giant mess. As I got older, I turned to the ever-refined cubed version, but still ended up getting the juice everywhere. I always enjoyed this sweet treat solo, but after the last couple of years, my palette has been craving more.
In enters this, my favorite summer salad of all time.
Crisp, bright, juicy watermelon balled into a seamless bite.
Sprinkled with a slightly spicy but needed bite of arugula and mescaline/spring mix. The salt from the halloumi cheese *(see notes at the bottom), the texture of its crisp golden crust, and the swirl of balsamic reduction creates an unbelievable balance of flavor. Everything you want from a light summer salad. With the punch of the fresh basil, your nose will literally be in heaven, you won’t be able to wait to dig in.
I know we never do. True story, immediately after I finished shooting the salad, we stood at the kitchen counter with a fork eating directly off the platter. Animalistic (or brilliant?) in our ways, this salad is best when served immediately, and honestly, it won’t last very long.
There will be a lot of “mmmms” and “ahhhhhs” the minute a forkful hits your tongue. I am definitely not trying to brag, but this summer salad is probably (definitely) one of my favorite recipes. And you should make it.
Watermelon & Halloumi Summer Salad
Author: Allie Brendel
- 4 cups watermelon, balled
- 8 ounces Halloumi cheese*
- 2 cups spring greens mix with arugula
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (for reduction)
- Fresh basil for garnish
- Cut a small watermelon in half, and using a melon baller, scoop out the meat to form watermelon balls and place in a mixing bowl. I had a palm sized melon from the farmer’s market and it yield around 4 cups. Set aside.
- Cut the halloumi cheese into bite size cubes. If you do not have access to halloumi cheese, a nice frying cheese will work as well, such as paneer (lightly add salt to paneer if it is not naturally salty) or queso blanco. It should be able to be fried without melting.
- Line a plate with a piece of paper towel (for the cheese when you are working on the next batch).
- Heat a non-stick skillet on medium-low, a splash a small amount of olive oil in the pan, this is more to impart flavor the outside of the cheese than to “fry” it.
- Working in batches, pan fry the cheese until each side is nicely browned. It took me about 1.5 minutes per side. I worked in small batches to ensure a crispy outside (more notes about this in the blog post). Once the batch is done, use a spatula to transfer the cheese to the paper towel lined plate. About 10-12 minutes for the full 8 ounces. Set aside to cool while you make the balsamic reduction.
- Keeping the heat on medium to medium low, use a small stockpot to make the quick balsamic reduction. Pour the balsamic vinegar in the pot and bring to a calm boil, stirring often to make sure that the vinegar does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
- You want the vinegar to thicken, but remove it before it reduces too much (remember it will thicken as it cools).
- I cooked mine down for about 5 minutes until it reached the thickness I wanted. If you do over reduce the mixture, you can add teaspoons of water to thin it back out. I recommend starting at 1 teaspoon of water at a time.
- Line a large platter with the spring mix/arugula, layer the watermelon on top, sprinkling each section with the fried halloumi cheese. Stick the fresh basil leaves askew in a few sections of the salad, make it accessible for anyone that grabs a section. Right before serving, drizzle the balsamic glaze on top.
- Serve immediately or assemble only a portion and package the ingredients all separate and assemble right before consumption the next day.
- Optional: Listen to "Summertime" by Will Smith while enjoying because this will give you all of the sunshine vibes.