At this point in the summer, you’ve probably had your fill of melon wedges, slices, cubes and balls. If you’d like something a bit more exciting, with more texture and salty, savory flavours, you should try a melon salad.
At its root, it’s a pretty old concept. Greeks have been combining watermelon with salty feta cheese for centuries, or perhaps millennia, and the pairing is genius: The sweetness of the fruit balances the brininess of the cheese, and the salty, crumbly cheese makes the melon seem even sweeter and more explosively juicy.
Somewhere along the line, cooks began to riff off this concept, pairing melon with all sorts of other salty, savory and/or creamy ingredients and drizzling the whole thing with oil and vinegar. But these innovations can result in some common pitfalls: namely, watered-down dressings and garnishes that slide to the bottom of the salad bowl.
To make ours more cohesive and balanced, we came up with a few best practices: We left the melon large so less liquid will exude and water down the dressing, and we kept secondary components small so they clung to the melon and held on to the intensely flavored dressing, which we made with assertive ingredients such as lime juice, scallions, serrano chiles and fresh cilantro.
We also skipped the oil, which would only be repelled by the water on the surface of the watermelon. Instead we added richness with chopped roasted pepitas and cotija cheese, which adhered to the surface of the watermelon pieces and held on to the dressing.
The beauty of melon salads is how versatile they are, so start with our version and then use those guidelines to create your own.
Watermelon Salad with Cotija and Serrano Chiles
Greeks have been combining watermelon with salty feta cheese for centuries, or perhaps millennia, and the pairing is genius: The sweetness of the fruit balances the brininess of the cheese, and the salty, crumbly cheese makes the melon seem even sweeter and more explosively juicy.
1/3 cup lime juice (3 limes)
2 scallions, white and green parts separated and sliced thin
2 serrano chiles, stemmed, halved, seeded, and sliced thin crosswise
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (optional)
3/4 teaspoon table salt
6 cups (1 1/2-inch) seedless watermelon pieces
3 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled (3/4 cup), divided
5 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided
5 tablespoons chopped roasted, salted pepitas, divided
- Combine lime juice, scallion whites and serranos in large bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Stir in sugar, if using, and salt.
- Add watermelon, 1/2 cup cotija, 1/4 cup cilantro, 1/4 cup pepitas and the scallion greens; stir to combine. Transfer to shallow serving bowl.
- Taste your melon as you cut it up: If it’s very sweet, omit the sugar; if it’s less sweet, add the sugar to the dressing. Jalapenos can be substituted for the serranos. If cotija cheese is unavailable, substitute feta cheese.