Lebanese Cheese and Watermelon Salad

Are the dog days of summer already here?? In Colorado the answer is – whew! Yes!

But so too are the wonderful days of the farmer’s markets. On Saturday I got to two of them in Fort Collins. I, along with I imagine millions of other people, was still reeling from the news of beloved Anthony Bourdain’s death. I may take another post to go into more fully how his life touched me, as a former professional chef, and how his self expression and travels emboldened me. But on Saturday, 50 minutes before the markets were due to close for the day, I got out there, and was so glad I did. I wish I’d taken photos of Fauzi Silbaq, proprieter of Shak-Shouka, and his wife, they are lovely people and their middle eastern food samples were so delicious. I was especially taken with a handmade cheese – Labaneh in Olive Oil – made with local cow milk from Morning Fresh Dairy here in town.

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As Fauzi described to me, the cheese is made from live lacto bacterial culture and milk – a strained yogurt formed into balls, sold in half pint jars in a delicious fruity green olive oil. It is less “springy” than mozzarella, more absorbent yet still retaining its shape. I was really taken with my sample, so decided to bring some home.

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I asked Fauzi’s wife what their favorite ways to serve it were. With warm pita bread was her first answer, then she also said it is delicious with fruit – watermelon especially.

That sounded like a fine idea to me.

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Watermelons aren’t locally in season quite yet, but it sounded so good I went to a supermarket to pick out a small, heavy, thumpin’ good organic one. And a lemon or two. Mint seemed a nice flavor addition, and I’m lucky enough to have a sweet pot of lavender, pineapple mint and peppermint (a Mother’s Day present) right outside my front door.

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See how creamy and wonderful the labaneh looks?

I discovered recipes online, and may like to try one soon – noticing it spelled “labneh” as well as the “labaneh” spelling. I shared with Fauzi that I love to make cheese too – paneer style with variations, as you, dear reader, may remember…

The light juiciness of the watermelon is absolutely perfect with this cheese – and the olive oil – which is similar to the watermelon and feta salad that has gained such popularity too.

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There’s really no recipe here, simply composing a few wonderful elements. I pictured melon balls as a pleasing way to present the dish alongside the round cheeses, and used a regular melon baller as well as a round metal 1 tablespoon measuring spoon for forming the larger melon balls. I carved a long lemon peel with my citrus peeler gadget, squeezed lemon juice and added a few grinds of five peppercorn blend, Himalayan pink salt and toasted (always better to take the time to toast!) sesame seeds over the top of it all. Arranged mint sprigs and scattered lemon zest, plus a few tiny wedges of lemon segments to finish it off.

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I’m so glad that Fauzi called out to me “Would you like to try a sample?!” as I was just about to walk by his table that HOT, hot morning. This cheese – and a few other farmer’s market treasures I found – made my Saturday. And he did too, so happy, so generous, and obviously – a really fine chef.

Enjoy this day, and give thanks to the farmers, and your garden, wherever you may be. Blessings!

 

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