If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably got a few things in your closet that you just know make you look like the best version of yourself, without even trying them on.
(And you’ve probably got a frightening laundry pile that you have been circuitously avoiding for at least a week now. But let’s focus on the positive, mmmkay?)
Usually taking shape as a well cut pair of trousers, a flowy maxi dress, or a LBD (ahem, thats little black dress to the male faction of readers), and generally being in a forgiving fabric (with perhaps a bit of stretch), it’s essential to have at least a couple of those ‘sure-things’ in stock for times when you need to gussy yerself on up in a hurry.
Think of this salad as that easy dress, that tie that somehow matches everything, or that pair of heels you can stand in for hours without wanting to saw your feet off at the ankles.
Granted this salad – chock full of juicy watermelon, sweet jicama, and salty cotija cheese – is more of a Summertime wardrobe staple…but nevermind. Who really wants to wear a short dress with pale legs in the Winter anyway?!
This is the salad I made when I didn’t want to make anything last week.
I had just finished working a few shifts in a row, and after cooking and making giant messes for three nights, I wanted something that was homemade and special but that would involve the least amount of effort possible and zero chances of burning myself with any molten sugar, searing hot pans, or rouge spatters of blisteringly hot oil.
(Let’s just say I’ve already accumulated some impressive battle wounds. Klutzy who?)
Before you go calling me out for, like, trying to pull the wool over your eyes and sneak a salad that includes the word ‘reduction’ into the catagory clouds titled ‘simple’ and ‘weeknight favorite’ – hear me out: this reduction is simply some balsamic vinegar chucked into a pan and simmered for fifteen minutes (while you assemble the salad) until it becomes thick, sweet, and syrupy. There is no need to bust out the fancy aged stuff either – your cheap run of the mill balsamic vinegar works absolutely fine here, and I think the intense flavors of the good stuff would be lost (and/or ruined) after a simmer on the stovetop.
The best thing about this salad is exactly the best thing about that dress, that tie, or those gravity defying platforms: it makes you look good without a lot of angst, without a lot of fuss, and without a lot of stress. Though it literally consists of dicing some watermelon and jicama together with a few handfuls of arugula, a bit of crumbled cotija cheese, a few strands of basil, and then drizzling aforementioned totally-NOT-scary reduction over the top, the flavors are so bold and fresh they create something totally bigger than the sum of their parts.
The salty cheese plays against the sweet fruit, and the light and spicy arugula perfectly balances out the thick and sweet balsamic drizzle. The basil adds a fresh finish to each bite, and somehow the delicate cheese crumbles make their way into every mouthful.
Even my self professed melon-hater-of-a-husband (we’re talking stink-eye city when he spies a cantaloupe or honeydew on the counter) inhaled this, and said over and over ‘we’ve got to keep this one in the mix.’ The watermelon is not overbearing at all, and it’s softer texture is welcomed in contrast to the firmer bites of jicama.
I’m just saying, if you want to look good without a lot of effort — toss on that dress and whip up this salad.
And then pour yourself a glass of wine and pat yourself on the back.
Watermelon and Jicama Salad with Arugula, Cotija Cheese, and Balsamic Drizzle
Serves 2 as a meal, 4 as a side salad
I like to use a smaller seedless watermelon for this salad, but feel free to use any type you can find (just be sure to remove any seeds if its not seedless). A yellow watermelon would work nicely here to change things up as well. If you want to add a bit more heft, grilled chicken or a sprinkling of nuts would do nicely.
To peel the jicama, either use a vegetable peeler, or set the jicama cut side down on a cutting board and carefully slice off the rough brown skin using a sharp knife.
Wait to dress each salad individually with the balsamic drizzle so that it does not mix too much with the greens and become murky and diluted.
1/4 of a small seedless watermelon, rind removed and cut into a rough dice
1/2 of a jicama, peeled and cubed (into the same size dice as the watermelon)
4 generous cups of arugula
pinch of kosher salt or flakey sea salt (such as Maldon)
4 oz cotija cheese, crumbled
6-8 basil leaves, cut into a chiffonade*
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
First, start your reduction. In a small saucepan, heat the balsamic vinegar over medium-high heat until it just starts to bubble and almost boil (don’t let it boil). Reduce the heat a bit to a simmer, and let the vinegar simmer for 15-20 minutes, letting it reduce and thicken, and keeping an eye on it to be sure that it doesn’t reduce too much and scorch the bottom of the pan. After that amount of time, the vinegar will be thick and syrupy and will coat the back of a spoon. It will thicken further as it cools.
While the reduction simmers, assemble your salad. Gently toss the arugula, jicama, watermelon, and the pinch of salt together in a large bowl. Sprinkle the crumbled cotija cheese over the top, and then garnish with the basil chiffonade.
When you are ready to serve, place a heaping portion of the salad on a plate (or in a serving bowl), and drizzle the balsamic reduction over the top. Enjoy immediately.
*To cut basil into a chiffonade, stack the basil leaves on top of one another and roll them into a cigar-like shape, starting from the smaller pointy end and rolling towards the stem end. Carefully slice the cigar into thin rounds, giving you skinny strands of basil.