A piquant take on the ubiquitous watermelon feta salad, this gets a boost from crunchy jicama, cotija cheese, and an eye-opening dressing.
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How do you feel about watermelon? I was just not that into it until one summer when I tagged along with Jay's band to Nantucket. There I discovered the wonders of Dark n' Stormy cocktails, cranberry bogs, and the joy of having an ocean that's actually warm enough to swim in. One evening we attended a gala of sorts on the beach which featured stands of oyster shuckers, bottomless champagne, and an enormous buffet complete with roasted meats, platters of cheese, and several cold salads. The watermelon feta was my favorite. Now watermelon salad will be always be linked with the feeling of cool sand in my toes and watching the late summer sun set.
I've always felt pretty meh about most melons and especially watermelons, but that salad changed my mind. And maybe it's the unusual heat in SF this year, but lately I can't seem to get enough watermelon. Our co-op has been carrying some adorable varieties such as Tiger Baby, and I couldn't resist picking one up (not just because it's named after my spirit animal, but because I actually wanted to eat it).
I had no plans for said watermelon, but one hot day last month I found myself with some leftover cotija cheese from chilaquiles adventures, an organic jicama that Jay's been slicing into green salads, and some rogue herbs. I threw some cumin and coriander in a pan to toast, then I mixed everything up with some ancho chile powder, good olive oil, and sliced cucumbers.
We inhaled the salad.
After lunch, Jay rhapsodized, "Salty and sour, sweet and savory – that just had everything going on."
For a hot minute, I fancied myself a highly original domestic goddess. I was wrong. Watermelon, jicama and cotija salad is a well-loved flavor combination.
And for good reason. Cotija is queso fresco's more flavorful cousin and it plays well with sweet watermelon the same way that briny feta does. The cumin and coriander add savory notes and dimension to tangy lime and olive oil dressing. Ancho chile isn't spicy, but it adds a toasty warmth and brick-red hue. Jicama and cucumber add crunch along with fresh mint and cilantro. And the little bits of salty cotija give you something to sink your teeth into. Sometimes I add slivered red onion and chunks of avocado when I'm feeling extra fancy.
I like this salad best when left to marinate for a few hours in the fridge; this makes it a perfect party or pot luck salad.
What do you like to do with watermelon? Here are a few recipes I've got my sights on.
Watermelon Ginger Aperol Spritz Cocktails from Salt + Wind
Watermelon White Sangria From Cookie + Kate
Watermelon Basil Colada from What's Cooking Good Looking
The Sugar Hollow: Watermelon Gin Cocktail with Cardamom and Lime from Will Frolic for Food
Watermelon Hibiscus Margarita from Supergolden Bakes
Watermelon Gazpacho from Simply Recipes
Spicy Ginger Watermelon Popsicles from With Food + Love
Grilled Halloumi and Watermelon from Camille Styles
Honey Grilled Watermelon Caprese Salads from How Sweet It Is
Watermelon Bruschetta with Whipped Feta, Basil and Balsamic from Host the Toast
Watermelon Salsa from Gimme Some Oven
How to Pick a Watermelon (and Watermelon Mint Agua Fresca) from Snixy Kitchen
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Watermelon Jicama Salad with Cumin, Chile and Lime
Few foods are as welcome on a hot day as this salad! Feel free to be loosey-goosey with the ingredients here, adding more or less of anything to your taste. Ancho chile powder is usually not spicy in the slightest, but it lends a warm, toasty flavor to this salad. If using a spicier chile powder, add it pinch by pinch to taste. If you can't find cotija cheese, trade in queso fresco or feta, or leave off the cheese for a vegan variation. I like this salad best when left to marinate in the fridge for a few hours so the watermelon can absorb flavor from the spices and herbs.
Makes 2 large or 4 smaller servings
1 teaspoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon cumin seed
¾ teaspoon mild ancho chile powder
½ teaspoon flaky salt (such as Maldon)
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon super good olive oil
juice of 1-2 limes (to taste)
3 cups (1 pound / 460 g) chunked watermelon flesh (about ¼-½ of a mini seedless melon)
1 smallish Persian cucumber (1/2 cup / 60 g), thinly sliced
1 cup (120 g) peeled, slivered jicama
2-4 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled (1/2 - 1 cup)
a few handfuls mint leaves, torn if large
a few handfuls cilantro leaves, torn
½ - 1 large avocado, ripe but firm, chunked (optional)
a bit of slivered red onion (optional)
Place the cumin and coriander seed in a small, dry skillet, and toast over medium heat, shuffling the skillet often, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Cool, then grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
In a large bowl, combine the watermelon, cucumber, and jicama. Sprinkle with the ground spices, chile powder, salt, pepper, and drizzle with the olive oil and juice of 1 lime. Toss to coat, then toss in the cheese, herbs, and onion and avocado if using. Taste, adding more of anything you feel the salad needs. Serve right away, or cover and chill for up to 4 hours.