After Labor Day, many think of Summer as having ended, but Fall doesn’t start officially for a few more weeks. At my local farmers’ market, there’s still an array of summer crops, including melons, vibrantly hued tomatoes, and plenty of fresh herbs, Recently, I used some of these late season beauties to create a salad of cantaloupe, cherry tomatoes, and feta tossed in a fennel seed vinaigrette.
This dish is simplicity itself. You need only to dice the melon, halve the tomatoes, and toss them in a lemon and olive oil dressing scented with crushed fennel seeds. Then, a generous seasoning of fresh chopped tarragon and crumbled feta complete the salad’s flavor profile. The sweetness of both the melon and the tomatoes contrasts with the tart notes of the dressing and the saltiness of the cheese. The tarragon and fennel seeds contribute striking anise accents. (My son, Mike, a talented and inventive cook, makes a similar version of this salad, but uses Pernod, that anise-scented French liqueur, in place of fennel seeds in the dressing.)
This colorful mélange made an especially good side to sautéed lamb chops and turmeric-scented couscous for a recent weeknight meal. And, it was just as tempting as the star attraction for a quick lunch accompanied by warm ciabatta bread. Don’t wait too long to make this special dish—in just a few more weeks all that glorious late summer produce will disappear, and Fall will have properly arrived!
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Cantaloupe, Cherry Tomato, and Feta Salad in Fennel Seed Vinaigrette
Fennel Seed Vinaigrette Dressing
4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely crushed (See cooking tip.)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups cantaloupe, cut into 3/4-inch dice
2/3 cup red cherry tomatoes, halved
2/3 cup orange or yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon plus 1 teaspoon extra for the garnish
2/3 cup crumbled feta
1.To prepare the dressing, add the lemon juice, crushed fennel seeds, and salt to a medium large (nonreactive) serving bowl. Whisk in the olive oil. Add the diced cantaloupe, sliced tomatoes, and 1 tablespoon of chopped tarragon. Toss to combine and let stand at room temperature for at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours for flavors to blend. (The salad can be prepared to this point 2 hours ahead; leave at cool room temperature.)
2.To serve, toss the salad ingredients again. Taste, and if needed season lightly with more salt. Then sprinkle with crumbled feta and remaining 1 teaspoon of tarragon.
Cooking tip: To crush fennel seeds, place them in an electric spice grinder and grind coarsely. Or, place the seeds in a self-sealing plastic bag, and crush coarsely with a meat pounder or rolling pin.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2022.