The Vegetable Diaries: Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint

watermelon fruit salad
Matt Nowak

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a New York summer is no time to turn on your oven.

It’s months like this July, however, that scream out to step away from the stove as well. Try as I might to stay cool and hydrate and just embrace the sweat behind my knees, I’ve been having a bit of trouble when it comes to working in my steamy kitchen. One turn of the oven dial or a flicker of fire under a pan, and my apartment begins to feel like Costa Rica (which may have been due to the background music of my “Rain Sounds” app as well, but it was still very hot inside).

So why, then, in these salad days of summer, am I slinking away from the bountiful and bright just-picked-from-the-farm-fresh leafy greens that should be the base of every light summer meal? Because every time I walk by a farmer’s market or a grocery store or even a well-stocked deli, I am drawn in by the sight of shiny, sweet summer fruit. I want it, I buy it, I eat it. And it is always that good.

What is my hands-down summer fruit winner? Watermelon. There isn’t even another worthy contestant in the pack during peak fruit season here in New York City. These days, I find myself often answering the question, “Yes, that is a watermelon in my purse.”

Fleshy but crunchy, sweet and tart, I am rife to think of anything (food-related or not) that I enjoy as much as eating a ripe watermelon in summer. And while I’d be happy to dive into a wedge on its own, I’ve recently been enjoying it in a salad variation with bits of feta cheese, red onion and mint. Dressed up with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, lemon and salt, this refreshing dish is a far cry from afternoon pit-spitting contests of childhood. Although, I’m sure if you initially saved a slice, you could hold a competition after your meal (it’s a good excuse to get someone else to do the dishes).

Packed with vitamins A and C, watermelon is a densely water-rich food. What does this fact mean for summer? That eating some of the fruit, in addition to drinking lots of other liquids, will help to keep you hydrated and cool during these drawn-out days. Watermelon also contains a decent amount of the B vitamins that may help to increase overall energy. And, of course, watermelon is such a refreshing bite that is can act as a complementary side dish to spicier foods.

I like to make this particular salad about 30 minutes before serving so the flavors can marry. However, a few weeks ago, I had a bit of the leftovers the next day and the taste was nicely subdued but nothing was soggy. Try it for dinner and breakfast -- if you can keep from finishing it all at once.

Watermelon Salad with Feta, Red Onion and Mint
Serves 4

There are so many different variations on this dish. Have ripe, summer tomatoes? Chop and seed one and add it in. Want a bit of spice? Try adding a pinch of cayenne pepper to the dressing? Can finally identify a jicama but can’t use it in a dinner? Peel it, chop it and add it right in for an even crunchier version of the original recipe.

½ Watermelon, rind removed and chopped into ½ inch cubes
2-4 ounces Feta cheese, crumbled
½ red onion, thinly sliced
4-5 fresh mint leaves, chopped
3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from ½ a lemon
1 tsp honey (if watermelon needs additional sweetness)
¼ tsp salt

1. Combine watermelon, feta and red onion in a large bowl.
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk olive oil, lemon juice, honey (if using) and salt. Drizzle over watermelon and gently toss to combine.
3. Add mint, toss once more, and let sit for 30 minutes before serving.

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