Tuesday, July 1, 2014

[Gluten-Free] Watermelon and Feta Salad

I'll admit it. Sometimes I have a hard time deciding where I want go on vacation. I get overwhelmed by the seemingly endless options. Growing up, vacations usually involved getting in the car and driving 40 minutes to my grandparents' beach house. I can probably count on one hand how many times it was just my immediate family on vacation. My family travels in packs. The phrase "Family Vacation" actually meant the whole family. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents...everybody. Dang Cubans.

There were a couple years there that we splurged and drove the whopping three hours to nearby Captiva Island. That was with the entire other side of my family. When we weren't all staying in the same beach house (and sneaking in our dogs), we were only a short walk away from each other. I'm telling you, packs. 

Last year when Patrick told me he wanted to take me to Captiva for our anniversary, I was a little hesitant. It wasn't just my normal vacation indecisiveness, but Captiva was always this great family memory suspended in time. I didn't know if I wanted to change that.  

But as we made the three hour drive just as my family had done 10 years before, a memory popped into my mind that I had completely forgotten. To get to Captiva, you have to drive through Sanibel Island first. It's where my parents went on their honeymoon. And even though I was young I always noticed that my dad would grab my mom's hand just as we drove through Sanibel. So sweet. Just as the memory was running through my mind, Patrick reached over and grabbed my hand. I couldn't believe it...  Full-circle. 

That little weekend getaway turned out to be one of the best vacations we have taken so far! Being with Patrick made Captiva feel so new, like a place I had never been before. We rented a pontoon boat, went paddle boarding, and rode bikes across the entire island. On our anniversary, Patrick took me to an adorable little restaurant where I discovered the amazing combination of watermelon and feta cheese. Holy Moly it's good.

As soon as I got home, I made my own version. I added chopped cucumbers, red onions, and macadamia nuts. I made it a layered salad with an incredibly simple dressing, because who wants to make a summer salad complicated? For me, one bite takes me right back to that amazing weekend where I found out that even the best memories can taste even sweeter when you add new ones to the mix.

[Gluten-Free] Watermelon and Feta Salad
This layered salad is summer on a plate. The flavor combination of the sweet watermelon with the salty feta cheese and peppery arugula is truly amazing. But it’s the macadamia nuts that take this salad to a whole new level! And don’t be scared of the cayenne pepper in the dressing, it adds a soft, pleasant kick. 

Makes 6 side salad servings

For the salad:
1 (5 oz) package of baby arugula leaves
1 (¾ oz) bunch of mint leaves,
       roughly chopped
3 cups chopped watermelon
       (¼ of a large watermelon)
1/3 cup chopped red onion
       (½ of a small onion)
1 cup chopped cucumbers
       (2 small cucumbers)
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
¼ cup chopped macadamia nuts
Black pepper

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons light agave nectar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place arugula leaves in a large platter (about 9x13 size). Top the arugula with the chopped mint leaves. Then, spread the watermelon pieces evenly over the greens. Then, sprinkle the cucumber and red onion pieces evenly. Top with feta cheese and macadamia nuts. Lightly season the top of the salad with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, agave, and cayenne pepper. Keep whisking while adding the extra-virgin olive oil. Pour evenly over the salad right before serving. Serve cold.

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