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A bite of cold watermelon and more in this salad

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One of the farmers I visited with at the market this morning chuckled when I told him I was in search of a watermelon. "Did you forget you are living in Minnesota?" he said with humor in his voice. "Minnesota is not the place to find a locally grown watermelon -- yet."

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Minnesota farmers who jump-start their planting very early in the spring in a high tunnel could be hauling ripe, juicy watermelons to market before too long. A high tunnel is a structure that looks a lot like a greenhouse. Plastic sheeting is stretched across U-shaped metal pipes. The plastic on the sides can be opened to let in air on warm days. The internal temperature is warmer than the outside temperature, but just as important, the soil warms much more quickly. The plastic covering adds about 6 weeks to the growing season by acting as a solar heater.

I left the market with a savoy cabbage, some ground bison and a smoked bison bone for my golden retriever, Gracie. I headed to the supermarket to pick up a seedless watermelon shipped in from California.

I haven't discovered a foolproof way of determining which watermelon in the bin at the store will be the sweetest and juiciest. Some people give them a thump and listen for a certain sound. I've tried that method, but I'm never sure if I'm hearing the sound that signifies perfection in a watermelon. Some inspect the stem end -- I'm not sure what they are looking for. I just pick up each hefty melon. When I find the one that is the heaviest for its size, I take it. That's the one that must be full of juice.

Most people think of watermelon as a one-dimensional fruit, slicing it up and eating it plain as dessert or a sweet snack. But, it's also good in a savory salad or pureed to make the base of a chilled soup. In my column this week, I share a recipe for Chilled Watermelon Soup that tingles the taste buds.

If your fresh green salads are getting a tad boring, give this watermelon salad a try. Chunks of sweet, juicy watermelon nest on a leaf of romaine lettuce. A splash of fresh lime juice gives the salad zing and pulls all the other flavors together. Ribbons of chocolate mint, crumbles of feta cheese and chopped raw pistachios make fine partners for watermelon.

Watermelon Salad is unusual, for sure. But, the combination of flavors will delight your taste buds.

I'll be anxiously waiting for the high tunnel watermelons to show up at the farmers market. Locally-grown watermelon in Minnesota -- now that's unusual.

Watermelon Salad

For each serving:

-Place a leaf of Romaine lettuce on a salad plate.

-Pile bite-sized chunks of chilled, seedless watermelon on the lettuce.

-Squeeze fresh lime juice over the watermelon cubes.

-Crumble feta cheese and scatter over watermelon.

-Sprinkle all with chopped mint (I used chocolate mint from my garden).

-Finish with a sprinkling of chopped raw pistachio nuts.

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