This Refreshing Watermelon Salad is the Ultimate Summer Meal

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I think this might be an unpopular opinion, but I used to not really like watermelon all that much.

Shocking, I know. But it’s true. I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember.

Growing up, I was always confused by watermelon being presented as a “treat.” At summer camp or on a field trip, if a watermelon appeared, the other kids went wild for it.But I’d think: Why are we being forced to accept this watery, drippy, bland melon as a “treat”? Where are the cupcakes? Where is the ice cream? Where is the candy?!

Of course, my mother raised me right, so I always politely accepted the watermelon, nibbled on it for a bit, and then found someone else to give it to. This definitely made me feel like the odd one out sometimes. Saying you don’t like watermelon is like saying that you don’t like baby animals – people can get very intense about it. 

So, I’ve quietly enjoyed a mostly watermelon-free existence for much of my 31 years. (This does not apply to watermelon Jolly Ranchers, which I’ve probably eaten hundreds of.)

But as I learned more about cooking and started working with all kinds of new ingredients, I began to feel like I was missing out on watermelon. It’s refreshing, hydrating, and packed with vitamins and antioxidants. And honestly, I was tired of being “that weirdo” who avoided all of the watermelon chunks in the fruit salad, opting for berries, grapes and anything else instead.

In the past, watermelon had always been presented to me on its own, or as part of a fruit salad, or in a cocktail. I started looking for ways to treat watermelon more like a savory food, rather than a sweet one.

When treated as a dessert, the watery-ness of watermelon always left me wanting more. But as an ingredient in a savory dish where it’s balanced by other flavors and textures, watermelon can be pretty dang delicious. It adds a subtle touch of sweetness and freshness to savory dishes, without making the end result too sweet.

That’s where this watermelon salad recipe comes from. It’s really a take on the Caprese salad, but adding watermelon takes both the classic Caprese and the humble watermelon up a notch.

Combining watermelon, tomatoes, onion, fresh herbs and feta cheese might seem like an odd idea, but when topped with olive oil and a balsamic vinegar reduction, this salad becomes the ultimate refreshing summer treat. It’s colorful, the flavors are bright, and it might show you a side of watermelon you’ve never seen before.

I wouldn’t say I’m fully a watermelon convert, but I do get a craving for this salad every summer.  Once the days just start getting unbearably hot here in North Carolina, this cool, light dish becomes my go-to weeknight dinner.

Watermelon Salad with Balsamic Reduction Tips and Tricks

Before throwing together this crave-able watermelon dish, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Cutting up the watermelon. Before starting, make sure you’re using a sharp knife. To cut your watermelon into cubes, start by cutting it in half lengthwise. Then, flip one watermelon half over and cut the half in 1-inch slices. Then, turn the watermelon half 90° and cut 1-inch slices going the other way. This gives you watermelon “sticks” that you can then cut down into the 1-inch cubes required for the recipe. (Also, the sticks are fun for snacking!)
  • The tomatoes. Get the most flavorful tomatoes you can find. Heirloom tomatoes, grape or cherry tomatoes of all colors, and flavorful Roma tomatoes work best for this recipe.
  • Fresh herbs. Fresh mint and fresh basil really pump up the freshness factor for this salad. Sadly, this is not a situation where dried herbs can substitute. Fresh herbs can be easily found in the produce section of the grocery store, or you could learn how to grow your own at home.
  • Balsamic Reduction. This is a rich, syrupy sauce that combines the tanginess of balsamic vinegar with the sweetness of honey and the tartness of lemon. The end result is a flavorful drizzle that perfectly complements the other ingredients. Start with a high-quality balsamic vinegar to create the most layers of flavor.

Watermelon Salad with Balsamic Reduction Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 Small, fresh watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4-5 Small, fresh tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • ¼ cup Red onion, cut into slivers
  • ⅛ cup Fresh basil, cut into small ribbons
  • Leaves from 2 mint sprigs, cut into small ribbons
  • A handful of fresh arugula leaves
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive oil
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 1 cup Feta cheese, broken up into chunks
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Balsamic Reduction

  • ½ cup Balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. Honey
  • Juice from half a lemon

Method

  1. Make the balsamic reduction. Pour the balsamic vinegar, honey and lemon juice into a small saucepan over medium heat. Once it starts to bubble, turn the temperature down to low, and continue reducing the mixture for around 10-15 minutes until it becomes thick and almost like syrup. 
  2. While waiting for the balsamic reduction, combine the watermelon, tomatoes, red onion, basil, mint and arugula in a large bowl. Stir gently to avoid bruising the herbs too much.
  3. Drizzle the olive oil over the top. Add the salt and two grinds of fresh black pepper, and add ¾ cup of the feta cheese. Stir to integrate with the watermelon mixture.
  4. Once the balsamic mixture is cool, drizzle it over the top of the watermelon salad. Top with the remaining ¼ cup feta, some leftover herb ribbons, and a few more grinds of black pepper. Serve immediately, or let sit in the refrigerator for an hour or so to let the flavors mingle and make the salad even more refreshing.
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  • This is going to be my first course at the first dinner party I host after this filthy Covid virus leaves our planet. Thanx I am already salivating . JHSMEL

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