Is it weird to make a food picture your phone’s wallpaper? Because I would like to see this salad staring back at me every time I click the home button.
We’ve reached what I think I’ve determined is my favorite time of the summer. August hits and the produce just starts rolling in. June and July are cute and all with their berries and cherries, but man…August takes the cake. Heirloom tomatoes all knobby and juicy are everywhere you look, corn is practically free it’s so plentiful. Ripe local cantaloupe and watermelon just singing their little hearts out, and the stone fruit. UGH the stone fruit. I can’t even go into the fleeting stone fruit season without feeling a little weepy for it’s short summer tenure.
I first came across the recipe for the OG Watermelon Salad years ago when I was on the hunt for a side dish for a summer dinner that wasn’t a pasta salad. You know, the one with watermelon, feta and mint? I’m sure it had been around for decades (centuries?!) but I remember feeling VERY on-trend as I served spoonfuls of it to my guests while wisely informing them of this fascinating new (to-us) combo.
Combining any sort of melon and salt (whether from a shaker, salty cheese or cured meat) is a match made in heaven, and one that goes back way beyond the summer of 2010 when I felt like I was blowing minds. Since that day, I’ve made countless watermelon salads in all kinds of combinations, and this one today is definitely my favorite.
This version of the famed feta/mint/watermelon combo swaps feta and mint for cotija and cilantro. Lime juice replaces the lemon, and lightly pickled japapenos and red onions are added to the mix along with creamy avocado. A sprinkle of cumin adds a welcome touch of smokiness and I guarantee when you plop that on a plate next to a taco paired with a cold margarita–it is a guarantee that you are not having a shitty time.
The onset of local watermelon makes a huge difference with this salad. A local farm has a few stands set out around town, and when they finally start getting their sugar baby seedless watermelons, I cannot wait to tackle it. This isn’t the wan, Whispering Angel pink of the January grocery store watermelon. No, this is vibrantly pink and as full of flavor as it is with water. Try to seek out a local melon when trying this salad.
Spicy Watermelon Salad
4-5 cups watermelon, cubed (I used half of one sugar baby seedless melon)
1/2 C freshly squeezed lime juice + 1 Tbsp juice, divided (from 2-3 limes)
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly into 1 inch pieces
1 jalapeño, stemmed, seeded, and minced (leave more stems/seeds in for more heat!)
1 large avocado, cut into chunks
3/4 cups chopped cilantro
1/2 C cotija cheese
1/2 tsp cumin
Take the sliced onion and minced jalapeño and put in small bowl. Cover with 1/2 C lime juice and set aside for 10-15 minutes (this will slightly pickle the vegetables and soften the heat from both).
Using a sharp knife, cut the rind off of your watermelon and dice into 1/2 inch chunks (this is personal preference as I think it makes it a little easier to eat. You of course can chunk your watermelon into any size you like!) Place in larger-than-you-think-you’ll-need-bowl.
Dice the avocado and put in small bowl. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tbsp lime juice and a pinch of kosher salt. stir to combine and set aside.
In large bowl, add onion, jalapeño, lime juice and avocado. I like to use my hands to fully mix this salad gently (if your avocado is very ripe it could get smushed!). Once the watermelon cubes are adequately covered in lime juice, add the cumin, chopped cilantro, and cotija cheese. Using your hands, gently stir the salad until combined. At this point you’ll notice a small puddle forming at the bottom of the bowl from the watermelon releasing juice after contact with the salt and acidic lime juice. I personally don’t love that puddle, so I like to take a frying spider or slotted spoon and transfer to a serving bowl. Wash all the cheese and lime juice off your hands!
Serve immediately. This salad keeps at room temperature for a couple of hours before the melon starts to break down and the puddle grows bigger. I like to hold off on the combination of ingredients until right before we are ready to eat!
Enjoy with tacos, margaritas, and friends!
ALL IMAGES AND TEXT © REBA TOLODAY / THE PROPER BINGE