This easy summer snack is a marriage of nostalgia. Growing up in the Mpumalanga sun, watermelon was one of my ultimate summer treats – and taking that first, juicy bite always felt like holiday. Lavender, on the other hand, always felt so French to me – and long before I first set foot in France, it conjured visions of waves of air washing over lavender fields as a country breeze blew in from the sea – fuming the air with that unmistakable floral-herbal scent. But while this staple of provençale cuisine remains one of my favourite herbs to use, it can so easily take on a medicinal quality if you’re not careful, so in this recipe (as in most recipes) I used it sparingly. Lavender loves sweet company, but I find the savoury creaminess of the baked feta in this honeyed entrée (or simple summer snack) irresistible.
I tend to agree with Mark Twain, who called the watermelon “chief of the world’s luxuries.” At JAN, I sometimes use a halved watermelon as a serving dish, particularly for my watermelon, tuna tartare and rooibos dish. It makes the dish unforgettable even before you’ve taken your first bite. Something that never ceases to put a smile on my face is that our watermelon supplier in Nice is so proud of his crop that he engraves his name and mobile number on each of his watermelons, as if to say. “If you don’t like it, give me a call.” We also serve braaied watermelon (a huge hit!), which we prepare and cook in exactly the same way as we would a juicy steak.
When choosing a watermelon, look for one that is heavy, and for the musical among us, listen out for a low B-flat when you knock on it. Seeded varieties generally taste better than seedless watermelons, and the flesh must be a rich, ruby colour. It’s always tempting to mix watermelon juice with that of other fruits and vegetables, but because they make so much juice, the options are surprisingly limited, although watermelon pairs really well with herbal and sour flavours.
With all the varieties available – like fynbos, orange blossom and eucalyptus – honey in itself gives you multiple options for this dish. But I would caution against using orange blossom honey with this dish, as it has quite a distinctive floral flavour that is not to everyone’s taste – and may overcomplicate this dish. My rule of thumb with most food is, the simpler the better.
2 rings of feta cheese
60 ml honey
2 lavender flowers
Heat oven to 180°C. Place the feta cheese in two individual small oven dishes and drizzle with honey.
Pick the small buds from the lavender and scatter over the cheese.
Place the dishes in the oven and bake for 10 minutes.
Take out of oven and serve warm with watermelon slices.