Watermelon Salad

4.86 from 21 votes
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This watermelon salad with feta cheese is a light and healthy side dish for summer barbecues and picnics. It’s a refreshing combination of fruit and veggies tossed in a sweet and tangy herb-lime dressing.

Watermelon salad with feta cheese in a white bowl.

Recipe Science

  • Watermelon’s high water content makes it refreshing and hydrating, while its natural sugars provide a sweet contrast to savory ingredients in the salad.
  • Adding acidic elements like lime juice and vinegar balances the sweetness of the watermelon and enhances the overall flavor profile.
  • Fresh herbs like mint or basil contribute aromatic compounds that complement the fruit’s sweetness and add a layer of complexity to the salad.

Why It Works

As the weather warms up, a watermelon salad makes the perfect addition to an alfresco meal. A delicious summer salad made with ingredients picked at their peak doesn’t need much to enhance the taste. But I have a few simple tips to turn a big ole’ melon into a stunning dish.

To accentuate the juicy red pieces, I use chopped vegetables like cucumbers and radish to provide extra crunch and color. But that’s not all. The thinly sliced red onions are quickly pickled with no extra effort, adding a pleasing tanginess for balance. Then drizzle with a minty lime vinaigrette and top with feta for the ultimate sweet and savory flavor.

Ingredients You’ll Need

Individual portions of various ingredients needed for a watermelon salad.
  • Red wine vinegar: Adds a tangy acidity that balances the sweetness of the watermelon and honey.
  • Honey or pure maple syrup: Provides a natural sweetness that enhances the flavors of the salad.
  • Red onions: Add a sharp, slightly sweet flavor and a crunchy texture.
  • Diced watermelon: The star ingredient, offering a refreshing and juicy base for the salad.
  • Sliced English cucumber: Complements the melon since they are both from the Cucurbitaceae plant family. In addition to their mild flavor, they also provide a pleasant crunch and structure for the base.
  • Sliced radish: Provides a peppery crunch that contrasts nicely with the other ingredients.
  • Feta cheese: Adds a salty, creamy element that balances the sweetness of the fruit.
  • Lime zest and lime juice: Add a bright, citrusy flavor that enhances the freshness of the salad.
  • Thinly sliced basil and mint: These fresh herbs add a burst of aromatic flavor and a touch of elegance.

See the recipe card below for all ingredients and measurements (US and metric).

Ingredient Substitutions

  • Red wine vinegar: Substitute with balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a different tangy flavor.
  • Honey or pure maple syrup: Use agave syrup or simple syrup as an alternative sweetener.
  • Red onions: Replace with shallots or thinly sliced green onions for a milder flavor.
  • Feta cheese: Substitute with goat cheese or ricotta salata for a different creamy, tangy cheese option.
  • Avocado oil or olive oil: Use grapeseed oil or sunflower oil as a neutral-flavored alternative for the dressing.

How to Make a Watermelon Salad

Step 1: Pickle the Onions

Instead of adding raw onions, make pickled red onions. Just two ingredients transform them into a sweet and tangy topping. A ratio of 2 parts red wine vinegar and 1 part honey makes a quick pickling solution. Slice the red onions very thin.

The thin size allows the acid to flavor the vegetables faster. In just 15 minutes, basically, once you’re done preparing the rest of the salad ingredients, it will be ready. You can even make it the day before to save time, and it will taste even better.

Person cutting the rind off a watermelon.

Step 2: Prepare the Watermelon

To cut the watermelon, I find it easiest to remove the rind first with a sharp chef’s knife.

Person cutting watermelon into cubes.

Chop it into 3/4-inch cubes. However, for a fancier presentation, you can use a melon baller to make tiny spheres.

I also add chopped vegetables to the salad to add dimension. English cucumber skin is fragile and tender, so there is no need to peel. The added fiber is always a plus! Slices of red radish add a slightly peppery taste. If watermelon radish is in season, use it for an extra pop of color.

Vinaigrette dressing in a bowl with sliced herbs.

Step 3: Make a Vinaigrette

A light and tangy herbed vinaigrette nicely infuses the watermelon cubes compared to a thick dressing. The herbaceous notes infuse into the dressing and release intense aromas.

Pouring avocado oil into a bowl of salad dressing.

Choose a neutral fat like avocado or olive oil to thicken the mixture slightly. Slowly drizzle in the oil while constantly whisking to make a proper emulsion.

pouring salad dressing over cubes of watermelon

Step 4: Mix the Salad

Right before serving, toss the salad with half of the dressing. This process draws out some of the fruit juices and allows them to mix with the vinaigrette. I like to add a little more on top for extra bursts of lime. Don’t forget to drain and add the pickled onions.

Fresh watermelon salad with crumbles of feta cheese.

Step 5: Ready to Serve

As a finishing touch, crumble some salty feta cheese on top. Goat cheese or cotija make lovely swaps. If you want to toss in extra greens, arugula or baby spinach are good options.

You can also cut avocado cubes for extra creaminess but sprinkle them on top right before serving to keep the flesh green and pieces intact. Diced jicama also adds a refreshing, crisp texture.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make watermelon salad in advance?

Yes! Cut pieces of watermelon can be stored inside an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days in advance. If mixed with the dressing, only hold it for up to 2 days. The acids and sugars will break down the fruit, making the texture softer if marinated too long.

What cheese goes with watermelon?

Feta is the most common pairing with melon. The salty and briny taste enhances the sweetness of the juicy red flesh. Goat cheese or cotija would be good alternatives.

How do you make the watermelon look fancier?

Instead of cubes, you can cut the fruit into different shapes. A melon baller makes pretty spheres, or small cookie cutters can make hearts, stars, or other shapes.

What are the benefits of pickling the onions?

Raw onions have a spicy, sulfurous taste. To mellow out the flavor, add acidity and sweetness. Soaking the vegetables in a vinegar and honey solution, a sweet brine, mellows the harsh notes. Each slice is bright and tangy, with a hint of sweetness. It only takes 15 minutes to infuse and transform the taste, but it can further develop if marinated overnight.

What size watermelon should I use?

Select a seedless watermelon, if possible, about 6 to 8 pounds in weight. This size is considered mini, which is perfect for fruit salad and some extra for snacking on. Look for one with a creamy yellow spot underneath to indicate it’s ripe. Also, check if it makes a hollow sound when tapped.

Serve This With

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Watermelon Feta Salad

The perfect summer side dish for a barbecue, light and healthy watermelon salad with crumbles of feta tossed in a tangy herb-lime dressing.
4.86 from 21 votes
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time0 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Course Salad
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

Watermelon Salad

  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey, pure maple syrup
  • ½ cup thinly sliced red onions, ⅛" thick
  • 6 cups diced watermelon, ¾" pieces, seedless
  • 2 cups sliced English cucumber, halved, ¼" thick
  • ¼ cup sliced radish, halved, ⅛" thick
  • 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, about cup

Herb-Lime Dressing (about 2/3 cup)

  • 1 teaspoon lime zest
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced basil, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced mint, plus more for garnish
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup avocado oil, or olive oil

Instructions 

  • Pickle the Onions – In a small bowl, whisk together ¼ cup red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons of honey. Add the sliced red onions and allow them to sit for at least 15 minutes. Drain well before adding to the salad.
  • Prepare the Watermelon – In a large serving bowl, add the watermelon, cucumber, and radish, set aside.
  • Make the Dressing – In a medium bowl, whisk together lime zest, lime juice, 2 tablespoons honey, chopped basil, chopped mint, 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar, salt, and black pepper. Slowly drizzle in the avocado oil, consistently whisking until a lightly thickened dressing forms. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as desired.
  • Mix the Salad – Drizzle half of the dressing over the salad, then gently toss to combine.
  • To Serve – Garnish with feta cheese, basil, and mint leaves. Serve immediately with dressing on the side.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: 8 cups
  • Serving Size: 1 cup
  • Storing: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 8 servings
Calories 134kcal (7%)Carbohydrates 14g (5%)Protein 2g (4%)Fat 9g (14%)Saturated Fat 2g (10%)Polyunsaturated Fat 1gMonounsaturated Fat 5gCholesterol 6mg (2%)Sodium 229mg (10%)Potassium 213mg (6%)Fiber 1g (4%)Sugar 11g (12%)Vitamin A 750IU (15%)Vitamin C 14mg (17%)Calcium 54mg (5%)Iron 1mg (6%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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4 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Irene says

    Thank you for this lovely salad. A dear elderly friend absolutely enjoyed this & I showed her your recipe. She mentioned that her father loved cooking and mastered it well over the years and for many harder fleshed fruits such as pineapple, melons and watermelon and he would use a bread knife. Who’d a thought. Thank you for your recipes, from Irene In Australia.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      You’re welcome, Irene! I’ll have to try this recipe with the different fruit you mentioned, just like your friends father. Thank you for the suggestions!