Is it June? Cold and damp air surround me, along with dark grey clouds and constant rain showers. It’s so damp and chilly, I’m wearing my fleece jacket inside. This is not typical seasonal weather in New York. When will the warm days of summer arrive? Wrapped in my winter sweater, I gaze out my window and feel dreary about the looming storms. This past weekend, I got a rare 24 hours of warm glorious sunshine, but it was nothing but a tease. I am craving warmth and sunshine in any form.
In good conscious I cannot complain about rain. I value its importance too much. Yet, we all have a fickle relationship with rain. It is something that you want when you don’t have it, and something you hate when you do. However, this weather is getting me down. Desperate times call for the unexpected and if I cannot feel the sun on my back, I must taste it in my food.
This recipe for papaya, cucumber and feta cheese salad is a bowl of sunshine and a party of different flavors and textures mixed together. The ingredients include sweet tropical fruit, crisp vegetables, crumbly cheese, brined olives, and a citrus dressing. This is what happens when tropical paradise invites the Greek Islands over for a party. You are not sure how everyone will get along, but delightfully they harmoniously mingle and create a festive atmosphere. Even the cured Greek olives add a welcome note into the party.
Learn more about Papaya here.
I first discovered this papaya salad from one of my brothers in law. Tom made this salad for my mother in law’s 85th birthday party. I was curious how the papaya would taste with all the ingredients because papaya is not a fruit I typically eat or cook with. Tom took great care making the salad and arranged each layer like a sculptor attentive to every detail. We placed his salad on the table like a work of art, almost too beautiful to eat.
As expected, the papaya salad was a huge success. Each guest stopped and admired the salad before they helped themselves. A lot of love went into making the salad, and in return love was given in appreciation. The fresh flavor of papaya and cucumber complemented the saltiness of the feta and olives. This unexpected pairing brought a delightful and subtle sensory experience. They say opposites attract, yet they also harmoniously blend and make for some of the best tasting foods.
Tom made this salad from a recipe in, The Inspired Vegetarian by Louise Pickford with photographs by Gus Filgate. This cookbook was first published in 1992 and Louise Pickford is a British cook and food stylist. Her intention was to inspire vegetarian cooking to mean more than sprouts and tofu. She certainly succeeded with this recipe.
Tips for making Papaya, Cucumber and Feta Salad
I slightly adapted Louise Pickford’s recipe, which she adapted from a feta salad recipe she first tasted in Astipalaia, Greece. First, I increased the amount of cucumber, then decreased the amount of feta. The contrast of the crisp cucumber with the soft papaya is refreshing. Adding more cucumber helps with the dryness of the feta cheese as well.
I also added fresh mint and eliminated the ground nutmeg. I am sure the nutmeg is nice, but I was hoping to create a fresh and sunny salad. The flavors of fresh herbs with a hint of spice from ground red chilies brought forward the flavors of the sun I dream of.
Papaya is ripe when the skin is yellow. The riper it is, the sweeter the taste. Like avocados, it is rare to find ripe papaya in the store. So plan to buy your papaya at least 3 days in advance. Hopefully, 3 days is enough time for the papaya to ripen.
If you cannot get papaya (or not a fan), substitute the papaya with ripe cantaloupe or watermelon. The olives might not pair as well with the watermelon, but they are easily removed.
I also like to serve this salad on greens dressed in extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. This papaya salad tastes great on peppery arugula or other slightly bitter greens.
Here comes the sun and summer fun with Papaya, Cucumber and Feta Salad. It is an unexpected and delicious salad and delight for the senses. And I say, “It’s all right.”
Papaya, Cucumber and Feta Salad
- 1 cup / 4 oz / 125 g feta cheese crumbled
- 1 large cucumber (about 14 oz / 400 g) peeled, seeds removed and chopped
- 1 TB chopped fresh dill
- 2 tsp fresh mint chiffonade
- 1 large about 2 lbs 11 oz / 1 K 225 g) papaya
- Shy 1/4 cup / 1 oz / 28 g pitted black Greek olives sliced thin
- 1 TB extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 TB lemon juice
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- Pinch of ground chili pepper
Make the salad dressing
In a small bowl, blend together the salad dressing ingredients until well incorporated.
Make the salad
In a medium bowl mix together the chopped cucumber, crumbled feta cheese and fresh dill and mint. Add two thirds of the salad dressing, about 2 tablespoons (38 g) to the feta and cucumber and mix. Cover the salad with plastic wrap and let the cucumbers and feta cheese marinate at room temperature for a couple of hours. About a half hour before you want to display the salad or eat, peel the papaya, cut it in half, then remove the seeds. Cut the papaya into bite size chunks. The papaya can be peeled and chopped in advance, but not too long for it to get soggy. Pour the remaining salad dressing over the papaya and mix. Arrange the papaya around the interior rim of your serving platter, then add the cucumber and feta mixture in the middle. Sprinkle with sliced olives and more fresh mint.
Papaya cucumber salad is best eaten the day it is made. Leftovers will keep well in the refrigerator, in a sealed container for 24 hours.
Papaya is ripe when the skin is yellow and the flesh is somewhat soft. If you cannot find papaya in your store, ripe cantaloupe or watermelon are great substitutes. You may or may not want to add the olives with the watermelon.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
When I first ate quinoa, my gratitude propelled my love for it more than its flavor. I was desperate for another gluten-free option to replace rice, and I was also on a low-glycemic diet. I can eat wheat and other gluten-protein grains, but several of my friends can’t. So, serving food that everyone can eat, not feel different or left out is my entertaining and personal philosophy. Quinoa is a perfect grain (seed), to eat and a great source of protein for plant-based diets. Ever since my discovery of this recipe, quinoa salad with avocado and dried fruit makes a regular appearance on my dinning table, especially for entertaining.
I discovered this salad recipe in Fine Cooking Magazine 2009, in an article featuring avocado recipes. Next to dark chocolate, avocados are one of my favorite foods. Naturally, the recipe grabbed my attention. During the time, I needed vegan and gluten-free recipes to serve with Thanksgiving dinner. The quinoa salad with avocado turned out to be the perfect option, a two for one deal. Additionally, this quinoa salad turned my attitude around from not just being grateful, but liking quinoa as well. This salad appeals to everyone, not just people who are vegan, vegetarian, or on a gluten-free diet.
There are many reasons why I love this salad and the taste is just one of them. This quinoa salad is just as much about avocados as it is quinoa. With a ratio of about 2 cups of cooked quinoa to 2 whole avocados, you get a creamy avocado morsel in every bite. Being a major avocado fan, I find this significant amount of avocados wonderful. What’s not to love about an avocado in every bite? There is never such a thing as too much avocado.
The dried apricots and raisins adds punch and concentrated flavor. The nuttiness of the quinoa and creaminess of the avocado provide a foundation for the dried fruit to pop. You do not need a lot of dried fruit, a little goes a long way. The deep orange color of the apricots adds a nice attractive element to the salad as well. If you live in an area where apricots are grown, try substituting fresh ones for the dried apricots. The only consideration is, once sliced, apricots get mushy and aged looking after they linger. However, adding a fresh ripe apricot might be worth a try.
The lemon cumin vinaigrette is much brighter than it sounds. Thanks to the absorbing power of the quinoa, the cumin flavor is in the background and does not overpower the delicate flavor of the avocado. The cumin adds a bit of earthiness against the airy and lemony sunshine. The taste of the flavors are unexpected, yet truly complimentary. I love it. The blend of the quinoa, avocado and dried fruits with the dressing is a nice balance of sweet, acid, nuts and earthy flavors. It is not a heavy dressing, just enough to season the ingredients. Therefore, the quinoa salad does not taste or look oily.
More Gluten-free recipes:
The only thing I change is, I like to add fresh herbs when they are available. Basil adds a nice bit of fresh green sweetness, and even parsley or mint works. If you want to add cilantro, substitute the lemon zest and juice with lime and see how you like it. Quinoa and avocados pair well with a variety of herbs and spices, just be careful not to overpower the salad with too much of anything. If you need a more substantial meal or substitute for almonds, chickpeas are also delicious in this salad.
Making this salad reminds me of my hometown in California. I can picture so many parts of my childhood with each ingredient. Eating avocado sandwiches with my friends at a restaurant in Strawberry. Climbing our apricot tree and picking them before the birds got them. But, what really touches my heart is when I rinse the quinoa. Running my hands through the cold, wet and gritty quinoa seeds, reminds me of making sand castles and building forts at Cronkite Beach. It’s usually cold, foggy and the sand is rough. Despite the cold, I love the Marin Coastline and will forever hold it dear in my heart.
Food has a way about savoring old memories and making new ones. Deborah Madison created this recipe, but after making it for so long and cherishing new and old memories, it feels like my own.
Quinoa and Avocado Salad with Dried Fruit
- 3 TB raisins dark, golden or a mix of raisins
- 2 TB dried apricots thinly sliced
- 1 cup red or white quinoa or a mix
- Kosher salt
- Zest from one lemon
- 1 TB fresh lemon juice
- 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 tsp ground coriander
- 1/4 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp ground sweet paprika
- 2 ripe avocados pitted, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
- 2 scallions white and light green parts thinly sliced
- 2-3 TB coarsely almonds
Add the raisins and apricots to a small bowl and cover with hot water. Soak the dried fruit for 5 minutes. Drain the water and set aside.
Put the quinoa in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under cold running water until the water passing through the strainer runs clear, not chalky. Add the rinsed quinoa to a medium saucepan with 2 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt. Bring the water to a boil, then cover and turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook until the water is all absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. You will see the germ ring that will look like a white curlicue around each seed.
When done, fluff the quinoa with a fork and spread out on a sheet pan to cool to room temperature.
While the quinoa is cooking, toast the almonds. Heat a small skillet on the stove at medium-high heat for 3 minutes. Add the almonds and stir, shake or flip the almonds in the pan and toast the almonds until they get slightly darker and release their oil. About 1 minute depending on how hot your skillet is. You will start to smell the almonds as they toast. Keep the almonds moving so they do not burn. Immediately remove the almonds from the skillet and cool. Once cooled, rough chop the almonds and set aside.
Make the salad dressing. Finely grate the lemon zest into a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice, olive oil, coriander, cumin, paprika and 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt, and whisk until well combined.
In a large bowl add the cooled quinoa, apricots, raisins, avocados, scallions and chopped almonds. Carefully mix the ingredients together. Try mixing them with a fork so you do not squish the ingredients together. Then add the salad dressing. Mix until combined. Spoon into a severing bowl, garnish with chopped almonds, scallions, and lemon zest. Serve at room temperature.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.