Watermelon, mango, blue cheese and cayenne pepper combine sweet, savory and spicy flavors in a fresh, colorful summer salad. Recipe below.
When we started planning last weekend’s road trip to Eastern Iowa, one of our first thoughts was that we might make it to Newton, Iowa, home of the Maytag Dairy Farms and Maytag Blue Cheese.
In 1941, heirs to the Maytag appliance makers began making small batches of blue cheese from the milk of their prize-winning Holstein cows. They aged their handmade wheels of cheese in caves on the farm. In other words, they were making artisanal cheese long before the term artisan was applied to foods. They still produce their cheese this way, making each wheel by hand and aging it twice as long as most blue cheeses.
We first read about this storied cheese in the Chicago Tribune a few years ago and first put it to use in the kitchen to make an Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts, now a favorite dish for impressing company. And we’ve thought about making a pilgrimage to Newton, Iowa, pretty much ever since then.
Alas, as almost always happens, we had crammed far too much into our 36-hour trip to tack on another 160-mile round trip further west. A couple of museums, a minor league ball game (great fun, even if the Cedar Rapids Kernels lost to the visiting Quad Cities River Bandits), hiking, birdwatching and eating some truly memorable meals. The Maytag Dairy Farm will have to wait for another trip—and there will be one.
One of the great, simple pleasures of the weekend was just driving through the rolling farmland. Various road trips over the years have taken us through lots of farmland, much of it rather hardscrabble and down at the heels. Iowa farms, by contrast, seem orderly and prosperous. You get a sense of things growing, a feeling of history and abundance, almost like driving through a Grant Wood painting.
Even though we didn’t make it to the home of Maytag Blue Cheese, the cheese made it into this week’s recipe. I’d seen watermelon feta salad recipes popping up here and there lately, and while that sounded fairly refreshing (especially with the addition of mint), I wanted bigger flavors. Our Iowa road trip put blue cheese on the map and pointed me in a whole new direction.
Watermelon Mango Salad with Blue Cheese
4 cups cubed seedless watermelon, chilled
2 cups cubed mango, chilled (about 1 large mango)
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (see Kitchen Notes)
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, packed (chopped or torn if large)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
generous 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese (see Kitchen Notes)
This salad is at its best and most crisp tasting if it’s nice and cold. Refrigerate the watermelon and mango beforehand or allow time for the cubed fruit to chill thoroughly in the refrigerator before assembling the salad. Combine the watermelon and mango in a large bowl, stirring gently with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to avoid mashing the fruit. Sprinkle the cayenne pepper over the fruit and stir gently to coat. Add parsley and lime juice and stir until just combined.
When you’re ready to serve the salad, sprinkle about half of the blue cheese over it and gently fold in. Transfer salad to a serving bowl with a slotted spoon (the salad will produce a fair amount of liquid—the slotted spoon will minimize the amount in the finished salad). Sprinkle the remaining blue cheese over the salad and serve.
Adjust the heat. I used a full 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper when I made this. You could tell. Even by our standards, the salad had quite a kick. I might use a tiny bit less next time I make it, so the heat is more of an accent and the freshness of the fruit flavors is the star. Adjust the heat according to your own taste buds—or those of your guests. You can always add more cayenne pepper, but you can’t take it out.
For the blue cheese, go for the good stuff. Maytag, which can be found at Whole Foods (among other places) is wonderful for this. But any really good blue cheese will work. Just make sure it’s fairly firm, not creamy. And don’t buy the pre-crumbled stuff—the flavor won’t be nearly as good. You’ll notice you don’t need a lot for this recipe. The blue cheese serves as a nice, sharp accent, balancing the sweetness of the fruit without overpowering it.