Matching melons with savory ingredients

The first time we tasted a savory watermelon salad, at 1500 Ocean restaurant on Coronado Island, California, we were surprised at how much we liked it.

Watermelon is paired with cherry tomatoes and feta cheese in this summer salad from ‘Pati’s Mexican Table.’ (photo credit: PENNY DE LOS SANTOS)
Watermelon is paired with cherry tomatoes and feta cheese in this summer salad from ‘Pati’s Mexican Table.’
(photo credit: PENNY DE LOS SANTOS)
The first time we tasted a savory watermelon salad, at 1500 Ocean restaurant on Coronado Island, California, we were surprised at how much we liked it. The watermelon cubes were seasoned with black olive tapenade made of chopped olives, olive oil and sherry vinegar and sprinkled with leaves of baby arugula (rocket cress).
Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, melons have traditionally been matched with a variety of salty ingredients. The Italian pairing of prosciutto (cured meat) with melon, for example, is a popular appetizer.
“In Turkey,” wrote chef Ana Sortun, author of Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, “melon is eaten with salty feta as a classic summer mezze. In Greece, tomato and melon salads also feature feta, black olives and fruity olive oil.”
Mild cheeses, too, are good partners for melon. Sortun uses fresh mozzarella in her melon salad. To make it, she dices melon and tomatoes, drains their juice and mixes the dice with fresh oregano, olive oil and sherry vinegar. She uses the mixture to top mozzarella slices seasoned with salt and black pepper and serves the salad with a baguette.
Tart, tangy and even hot and spicy flavorings can also go well with melons. Chef John Ash, co-author of From the Earth to the Table, makes a watermelon and red onion salad with a tart and sweet dressing composed of raspberry puree, raspberry vinegar, olive oil, honey and shallots. He serves the salad on a bed of spicy greens and garnishes it with thin strips of mint leaves.
Hot peppers and fresh mint flavor Ash’s fire and ice melon salad with figs. For the dressing, he adds minced peppers to a syrup flavored with lime juice. (See recipe.) He also uses hot peppers to season a fruity salsa made of diced melon, diced fresh pineapple slices, red onion and cilantro dressed with olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, honey, garlic, salt and pepper.
Both hot peppers and feta cheese pep up a watermelon salad made by Pati Jinich, the author of Pati’s Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking. For the dressing, she blends olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt, minced hot pepper and chopped fresh mint. (See recipe.)
Watermelon can even be made into a curry. In fact, watermelon curry is a signature dish of Rajasthan in western India, wrote Prem Souri Kishore in India: A Culinary Journey. She makes it by briefly simmering watermelon cubes in a watermelon sauce flavored with chili powder, turmeric, cilantro and garlic. (See recipe.)
*The writer is the author of the award-winning book Classic Cooking Techniques.
Tomato and Watermelon Salad
This recipe is from True Food: Seasonal, Sustainable, Simple, Pure by Andrew Weil and Sam Fox. For a stunning presentation, the authors recommend using a combination of red and yellow watermelon and red, yellow and orange tomatoes.
“The easiest way to turn a salad into a main course,” wrote Weil, who is known for his advice on healthy eating, “is to serve more of it and add protein,” such as tofu, crumbled, chunked or shaved cheese or toasted nuts.
Creamy goat cheese and roasted cashews enhance this salad. The dressing calls for white balsamic vinegar but you can use regular balsamic or white wine vinegar.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 900 gr. (2 pounds) watermelon, rind removed, cut into 4-cm. (1½-inch) chunks
❖ 4 large tomatoes, cut in wedges
❖ 1½ to 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
❖ 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
❖ 2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
❖ ½ tsp. salt
❖ Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
❖ 2 Tbsp. small fresh basil leaves
❖ 110 gr. (4 ounces) mild goat cheese, such as Montrachet, crumbled or cut in small pieces
❖ ¼ cup chopped roasted unsalted cashews
Divide the watermelon pieces and tomatoes among salad plates. Drizzle each portion with the olive oil and vinegar. Season with the salt and pepper. Top with the basil, goat cheese and cashews before serving.
Watermelon Curry
The recipe for this curry, which is sweet, spicy and cooling, is from Prem Souri Kishore’s book. She recommends eating the curry with rice. You can substitute lemon juice for the lime juice.
Makes 4 servings
❖ 1 large watermelon
❖ 1½ tsp. red chili powder
❖ ¼ tsp. ground turmeric
❖ ½ tsp. ground cilantro
❖ 1 tsp. garlic paste or finely minced garlic
❖ Salt
❖ 2 Tbsp. oil
❖ ¼ tsp. cumin seeds
❖ 2 tsp. sugar
❖ 3 tsp. lime juice
Cut watermelon, remove pulp from rind and cut pulp into cubes. Put 1 cup of watermelon cubes in a blender and puree into a juice. Add the chili powder, turmeric, cilantro, garlic paste and salt to taste.
Heat oil in a frying pan, add cumin seeds and cook for 20 seconds. Add the seasoned watermelon juice and simmer until spices are well blended. Add sugar and lime juice. Cook for 1 minute.
Add the watermelon cubes and simmer over low heat for about 7 minutes or until softened.
Fire and Ice Melon with Figs
This recipe is from From the Earth to the Table by John Ash (with Sid Goldstein).
“This is a perfect dish for a warm summer day,” wrote Ash. “The fiery heat of the serrano chiles [hot green peppers] makes a startling and delightful contrast to the cool, refreshing melon. This counterpoint of hot and cool is carried through by the mint and lime juice.”
You can substitute lemon juice for the lime juice.
Makes 8 appetizer servings
❖ 1/3 cup sugar
❖ ¼ cup water
❖ 2 tsp. seeded and minced hot green peppers
❖ ¼ cup fresh lime juice
❖ 1 Tbsp. minced fresh mint
❖ 2 tsp. minced sweet red pepper
❖ 2 tsp. minced sweet green pepper
❖ 2 tsp. minced sweet yellow pepper
❖ 2 large ripe melons
❖ 8 large fresh, ripe figs, sliced
❖ Edible flower petals (optional, for garnish)
To make the syrup: In a small saucepan combine the sugar and water. Boil until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool. Add the hot peppers, lime juice, mint and sweet peppers. (The syrup can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.) Cut the melons in half and scoop out the seeds. Remove the rind. Cut the melon into an assortment of pleasing shapes, such as cubes or melon balls.
To serve, arrange the melon and figs on wellchilled plates. Spoon the syrup over the fruit and garnish with flower petals if desired.
Watermelon and Green Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese
This recipe is from Pati Jinich’s book.
“Essentially summer in a bowl, this salad features an unexpected combination of ingredients,” wrote Jinich.
She makes the salad with tomatillos (green husk tomatoes) but says that green tomatoes work as well. You can also use underripe tomatoes.
The vinaigrette can be made up to 3 days ahead, covered and refrigerated; mix it well before using. You can assemble the salad without the cheese and mint garnish up to 12 hours in advance and keep it covered and refrigerated.
Lemon juice can be substituted for the lime juice.
Makes 6 servings
❖ 2 tsp. chopped fresh mint, plus more for garnish
❖ 1 Tbsp. seeded (if desired) and finely chopped jalapeño chile or other hot pepper, or to taste
❖ 3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
❖ 1½ tsp. distilled white vinegar
❖ 1 tsp. coarse sea salt, or to taste
❖ 3 Tbsp. olive oil
❖ 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
❖ 6 cups seeded and cubed ripe watermelon
❖ About 350 gr. (¾ pound) green tomatoes, thinly sliced in wedges (about 3 cups)
❖ About 110 gr. (4 ounces) feta cheese, crumbled or cut into small dice (¾ cup), or to taste
In a small bowl, combine the mint, jalapeño, lime juice, vinegar and salt. Slowly add the oils in a thin, steady stream, mixing with a whisk or a fork until emulsified. Let sit for at least 5 minutes before using, so the mint and jalapeño flavors can marry and infuse the vinaigrette.
Place the watermelon and green tomato wedges in a large salad bowl. Toss gently with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat.
Sprinkle the cheese on top, garnish with mint, and serve.