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Watermelon salad is one of summer’s juiciest delights – and the best recipes follow an easy three-step formula.
Few fruits have been at the centre of more notable pop culture moments than the watermelon. From Jennifer Grey’s much-quoted Dirty Dancing scene to Harry Styles’ sugary 2019 anthem and that infamous Love Island challenge, the watermelon’s mammoth proportions and striking colours make it an icon of the food world.
As for actually eating it, that’s pretty great, too. Inside its green stripy skin, watermelon’s bright pink flesh is 92% water – and its hydrating juiciness makes it ideal summer fare.
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Not sure where to begin? Happily, there’s a simple three-step formula to a winning watermelon salad every time. Fresh pink fruit + soft green herbs + a dash of dairy = the ultimate warm weather triumvirate. But just like cups of tea, everyone has a slightly different idea of what makes the perfect version – from the type of dairy deployed (creamy yoghurt? Mild or salty cheese?) to the dressing (citrusy, vinegary or olive-oil-only?).
Below you’ll find five recipes for watermelon salad, each riffing off the aforementioned holy trinity. If you’re as evangelical about burrata as we are, you’ll want to make Reem Kassis’ lime-spiked dish. The intensely creamy cheese sits atop dressed watermelon chunks, scattered with torn mint leaves and pistachios for extra colour and crunch.
Another Italian soft cheese is used in the recipe for watermelon and ricotta salata salad, featuring olive salt (inspired) and fresh oregano. For a punchier concoction, try Ben Tish’s Moorish-inspired blend, which combines salty blue cheese and toasty walnuts with delicate fronds of dill.
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After something more substantial? Mark Diacono’s fruity take on fattoush is exactly what you need, with watermelon, grilled pitta bread and garden-fresh parsley and chives tossed in a pleasingly garlicky yoghurt dressing.
Finally – halloumi fiends, Genevieve Taylor’s recipe is for you. The cheese is griddled until it’s deliciously stripy, then tossed with (all together now) watermelon, coriander, chopped nuts and piquant pickled onions.
Bookmark these recipes for this summer’s long-awaited heatwave – we promise, your future self will thank you.
Watermelon and burrata with pistachios, mint and lime
Reem Kassis says: “Contrary to what has been popularized by those who write about Middle Eastern food, nobody eats watermelon salad in the Arab world. We don’t chop or mix, we don’t dress or season. We eat watermelon and cheese. Period.
“Sometimes we’ll put the cheese in a piece of bread and eat the watermelon on the side, but that’s the extent of it. So this simple platter is an ode to my memory of carefree childhood days, running with cousins around mountains or on beaches, with watermelon juice dripping down our chins and fingers.
“I use burrata or mozzarella in place of the traditional white Arabic cheese because it’s more consistent abroad. At first bite this might leave you wondering, ‘Where is the salty cheese?’, but the subtle layers of flavor – from fragrant mint and lime zest to crunchy pistachios and salt flakes – will slowly hit your palate and leave you more than satisfied.”
- 450g bite-size cubes of watermelon
- 225g burrata or fresh buffalo mozzarella
- 2 heaping tbsp pistachios, finely chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh mint, leaves picked and finely chopped
- 1 tsp grated lime zest from an unwaxed or organic lime
- Maldon sea salt, for sprinkling
- very good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Arrange the watermelon cubes on a serving platter. Tear the cheese into pieces and place on top of the watermelon.
Scatter the pistachios, mint, and lime zest on top and sprinkle with flaky salt.
Drizzle with some olive oil and serve immediately.
From The Arabesque Table: Contemporary Recipes From The Arab World by Reem Kassis (£24.95, Phaidon), out now
Watermelon and ricotta salata salad with olive salt
This is a delightfully pretty, refreshing salad in which the olive salt brings out the sweetness of the watermelon. Ricotta salata, a lightly salted cheese made from sheep milk, originates from the island of Sicily.
If you can’t find a mini watermelon, buy the smallest available and cut it in half. You can use Greek feta cheese if ricotta salata isn’t available.
- 1 mini seedless watermelon
- 170g ricotta salata cheese
- 2 tbsp fresh oregano leaves
- olive oil, to drizzle
- cracked black pepper, to season
For the olive salt:
- 10 black olives, pitted
- 2 ½ tbsp sea salt
Peel the watermelon and cut it into bite-size chunks. Put in a serving bowl, crumble the ricotta salata over the watermelon, and sprinkle with the oregano.
To make the olive salt, chop the olives roughly. Grind them with the salt using a mortar and pestle until the olives are mashed.
Drizzle the olive oil over the salad and season with black pepper. Sprinkle with a generous amount of the olive salt.
Put the remainder of the salt in a bowl to use on other dishes.
From Mortar & Pestle: 65 Delicious Recipes For Sauces, Rubs, Marinades And More (£9.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Watermelon and salty blue cheese with toasted walnuts and moscatel vinegar
Ben Tish says: “The Moors introduced the watermelon to Spain towards the end of the 10th century. The fruit became wildly popular due to its sweet, refreshing flesh, and soon the word had spread throughout the countries of southern Europe.
“Like many I love to eat watermelon on its own, chilled, when it’s blazing hot, but I also love this combination of the sweet fruit’s pairing with the salty blue cheese and the crunchy, salted walnuts. Moscatel vinegar, or muscat grape vinegar, is a delicious sweet vinegar with a gently sharp edge. A white balsamic would be a good alternative.”
- ½ small, heavy watermelon (800g–1kg) with unblemished smooth, shiny skin
- 50ml moscatel vinegar or white balsamic
- 100g walnut halves
- 70ml walnut oil
- a handful of herb fennel or dill fronds
- 150g salty blue cheese (such as gorgonzola, picos blue, roquefort)
- sea salt and black pepper
Peel the melon half, removing all the white flesh under the skin. Dice the coloured flesh into 2cm pieces.
Place in a bowl. Season and toss in the vinegar. Set aside.
Place a sauté pan over a medium heat. Break the walnut halves into pieces directly into the pan and toast for a few minutes, tossing, until they are fragrant and have started to release their oil.
Season liberally with salt and mix into the watermelon.
Add the walnut oil and fennel fronds and crumble in the blue cheese. Briefly mix together and serve.
This is delicious on its own, with warm flatbreads, or as part of a mezze-style sharing meal.
From Moorish: Vibrant Recipes From The Mediterranean by Ben Tish (£26, Bloomsbury Absolute), out now
Watermelon and parsley fattoush with yoghurt dressing
Mark Diacono says: “Fattoush may well be the noise a ripe watermelon makes as it hits the pavement when dropped from a crane. I hope so. I woke up one morning with the idea for this sitting right at the front of the queue of new day thoughts; here, after a few tweaks, it is.
“The slightly inky scent – like a leaky Bic – of watermelon and the herbs together, gives this a strange saffronish backbeat. The parsley, whole, as a salad leaf, is so good here. Adapt as you like: white grapes, halved, instead of/with the radishes is a very fine move, as is mint in place of the chives, with dried oregano instead of the mint in the dressing.”
- 2 za’atar flatbreads or use pitta breads dusted with za’atar or sumac
- finely grated zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
- 3 tbsp good-quality olive oil
- good pinch of sea salt
- 1 little gem lettuce, shredded
- cucumber, peeled, halved, deseeded and thinly sliced
- 200g watermelon, peeled, deseeded and cubed
- 200g radishes, thinly sliced
- large bunch of flat-leaf parsley, whole leaves only
- 3 tsp dried mint
- 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
- 120g yoghurt
- 1cm thick ponytail of chives, roughly chopped
Split the breads in half, toast until they are crisp and dry, and break them into pieces.
Whisk the lemon juice into the oil with the salt in a large bowl, then tumble in the lettuce, cucumber, watermelon, radishes, parsley and bread pieces.
Spread this out on a large platter.
Stir the lemon zest, dried mint and chopped garlic into the yoghurt and splatter over the salad.
Scatter over the chives and serve.
From Herb: A Cook’s Companion by Mark Diacono (£26, Quadrille), out now
Watermelon, halloumi, lime-pickled red onions
Genevieve Taylor says: “OK, I’ll admit that no actual vegetables were grilled in the making of this salad but I hope you agree it is worthy of inclusion [in my book Charred: The Complete Guide to Vegetarian Grilling and Barbecue]. And, after all, grilled halloumi with almost anything is very much worth eating.
“You can grill watermelon (useful to know if your melon is a little underripe), but I do prefer its texture when eaten raw.”
- 1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
- zest and juice of 2 limes
- 2 tsp caster sugar
- 1kg watermelon, about medium-sized one
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 3 x 250g blocks of halloumi, cut into 1cm thick slices
- a small bunch of coriander, leaves roughly chopped
- a small bunch of mint, leaves roughly chopped
- 50g pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the onion into a small bowl with the lime zest and juice and the sugar, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside for about 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Cut the watermelon into 1cm thick wedges, trimming off the rind as you go. Spread over a large platter.
Fire up your barbecue ready for direct grilling, or heat up a griddle pan on the hob.
Drizzle a little of the oil over the halloumi (save the rest for the salad), then place directly over the heat on the grill bars.
Cook for 2–3 minutes, until seared, then turn over with a fish slice and cook the other side.
Once the halloumi is cooked, cut each slice in half on the diagonal and scatter over the watermelon.
Sprinkle over the coriander, mint and pickled onion slices, drizzling over the lime juice from the bowl too.
Scatter the chopped pistachios over the salad.
Finish with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a grind of salt and pepper and serve immediately, while the halloumi is still warm.
From Charred: The Complete Guide to Vegetarian Grilling and Barbecue by Genevieve Taylor (£16.99, Quadrille), out now
Photography: © Jason Ingram; Dan Perez; © Ryland Peters & Small; Kris Kirkham; © Mark Diacono