I was born in bleak mid-January, so, naturally, I have become accustomed to a cold, wintery birthday. It comes with the territory. Like all occasions, you shape the celebration to the season and I have hosted a number of wintery parties. For instance, the Valentine’s Day-themed sleepover which involved a hideous microwaved Skittles concoction (why I was given free-reign in the kitchen aged 11 I don’t know), a wholesome day of tobogganing for my fifteenth, numerous winter walks and pub visits because I love them, and a fleeting foray to snowy Florence a couple of years ago.
This year, however, January is in the summer.
I know. Coming from the Northern Hemisphere, this caused major confusion (‘but… it won’t be cold…’) as, for me, January and summer simply shouldn’t go together. But like bananas and bacon, and the weird mother-child combination of the chicken and egg, they just do.
Therefore, this was my first-ever birthday barbecue. There wasn’t a toboggan, a scarf or even a goosebump in sight. And for the first time I was outside in a crop top and white jeans on my birthday. The vast chattering crowd of us squeezed into the garden, the table adorned with crisps, dips, Gaylord’s addictive guacamole, cheese, bread, salad, and most importantly sangria, and the barbecue fired away cooking two butterflied chickens. Only as the guests arrived did I belatedly decide to prepare the birds, hurriedly hacking out their backbones with shears. Meanwhile I multi-tasked making coherent conversation and swigging prosecco, then massaging the chickens with crushed garlic, lemon zest, rosemary and olive oil. We laid them over the hot barbecue racks and the skins grew dark and crispy, and whenever they were turned there was a hiss of juice hitting the hot metal. Once cooked Gaylord carved them up, both of us stealing pieces of soft white meat, while I seared prawn and cherry tomato skewers, and now a firm favourite, skewers of watermelon and halloumi marinated in chilli and garlic.
The rest of the night passed in a blur of sangria, circulating skewers, and everyone singing Happy Birthday as Gaylord presented me with his second chocolate cake masterpiece in a month, this time with a couple of candles perched on top. I didn’t even take pictures, my hands too full of chips and guacamole. My birthday ended with me in the living room, chocolate on my top, red wine on my white jeans, in some weird contortion as Laura forced me to play Twister.
Like summer in January, weird combinations are sometimes the best ones. Watermelon and halloumi for example – the crisp sweetness of the melon complemented by the creamy cheese, salty and spicy from marinade. The magic of heat transforms the watermelon to become almost meaty, the crisp freshness muted to a softer, more savoury flavour. I will certainly make those skewers again this summer, our barbecue is just begging to be bestrewn with all sorts of kebabs, hunks of meat, burgers and corn on the cob.
Considering the popularity of these watermelon skewers, and the fact I still had half a watermelon left, I bought a packet of feta and some salad leaves. I chopped the watermelon into cubes and tossed them in chilli flakes, olive oil, dried rosemary and dried garlic, an ingredient I admittedly don’t use – until now. The simplicity a jar of ready-to-use garlic makes quick cooking effortless which is always a plus for a lazy chef like me. I then heated a little oil in a frying pan, chucked in those garlicky chunks of watermelon and flash fried them, allowing the fruit to lose some juice, the garlic and chilli to intensify and the rosemary to release its woody aroma. I piled the watermelon on top of salad leaves tossed in lemon juice and olive oil, and crumbly cubes of feta.
It’s worth buying a whole watermelon for these skewers, and for this salad. Any excuse for another barbecue in January.
Watermelon and feta salad
Adapted from Nadiya Hussain’s recipe
200g watermelon, cut into cubes
½ tsp chilli flakes
1 tsp dried garlic
½ tsp dried rosemary
125g feta, cut into cubes
1 bag of salad leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Chuck the watermelon in a bowl along with the rosemary, garlic and chilli flakes, enough olive oil to moisten, salt and pepper, and toss to coat.
- Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add the watermelon. Sizzle in the pan and toss occasionally so all watermelon is evenly cooked. Cook for 5 minutes until warmed through and the pieces are softened.
- Meanwhile, toss the feta in the remaining marinade in the bowl.
- Dress the salad with a drizzle of oil, a squeeze of lemon and a couple of pinches of salt. Throw in the feta and watermelon and gently mix with some salad servers or tongs. Divide onto plates and serve.