This watermelon salad with feta cheese is a light and healthy side dish to serve at summer barbecues and picnics. It’s a refreshing combination of fruit and veggies tossed in a sweet and tangy herb-lime dressing.
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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.
Preparing the watermelon
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.
To cut the watermelon, I find it easiest to remove the rind first with a sharp chef’s knife, then chop it into 3/4-inch cubes. Although for a fancier presentation, you can use a melon baller to make tiny spheres.
Add pickled onion
Instead of adding raw onions, make them more attractive. 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.
To add dimension to the salad, I add chopped vegetables. English cucumbers complement 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. Their skin is fragile and tender, so no need to peel. The added fiber is always a plus!
Slices of red radish add a slightly peppery taste. Use watermelon radish if in season for an extra pop of color. If you want to toss in extra greens, then arugula or baby spinach are good options. You can also cut avocado cubes for extra creaminess but sprinkle on top right before serving to keep the flesh green and pieces intact. Diced jicama also adds a refreshing crisp texture.
Make a vinaigrette
A light and tangy herbed vinaigrette nicely infuse into the watermelon cubes compared to a thick dressing. Freshly grated lime zest and juice add a tartness, although you can substitute with lemon juice. Red wine vinegar adds a nice fermented, tangy note, but apple cider vinegar works well too.
Honey adds sweetness to balance the flavors. I like to add sliced fresh mint and basil. The herbaceous notes infuse into the dressing and release intense aromas. 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.
Serving 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. As a finishing touch, crumble some salty feta cheese on top. Goat cheese or cotija make lovely swaps.
Serve this with
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Watermelon Feta Salad
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey, pure maple syrup
- ½ cup thinly sliced red onions, ⅛-inch thick
- 6 cups diced watermelon, ¾-inch pieces, seedless
- 2 cups sliced English cucumber, halved, ¼-inch thick
- ¼ cup sliced radish, halved, ⅛-inch thick
- 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled, about ⅓ 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
- In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 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.
- In a large serving bowl, add the watermelon, cucumber, and radish, set aside.
- 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.
- Drizzle half of the dressing over the salad, then gently toss to combine.
- Garnish with feta cheese, basil and mint leaves. Serve immediately with dressing on the side.
- Recipe Yield: 8 cups
- Serving Size: 1 cup
- Storing: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
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