chile-lime melon salad Recipes

chile-lime melon salad

If you go to Mexico City and leave without a pressing, relentless craving for melon, or really just about any fruit, sprinkled with tajín (salsa en polva), a branded seasoning powder comprised of chiles, lime and salt, I think you need to go back because you did it wrong. It feels melodramatic to call this intersection of tangy spice and juicy fruit a national dish, but the spice blend is a staple on tables and at street vendors all over Mexico, and I dare say more popular than ketchup is here. If you go to someone’s home and they have a bottle of tajin in their cabinet, it’s usually right up front and there’s a spare somewhere near because it would be unfathomable to run out. If asked, the person will probably tell you that they had it once over melon, mango, pineapple or cucumbers one time, or maybe in a michelada and they could never eat it another way again. I hope you consider that a warning.


what you'll need
honeydew

Although in Mexico it’s a street snack, as unfussy as can be, because I’m a no-fun person who hates eating standing up, I’ve been trying to figure out how to make a salad of it for some time and finally figured it out. Here, the lime juice is squeezed fresh, the chili powder is sprinkled to taste, the salt is coarse and I add other accents — roasted pepitas, crumbled cotija and chopped cilantro. It works as part a brunch spread (I think all brunch spread need more salad), with some sort of taco-centric meal or as the heat wave salad of my dreams.

ballin' (sorry)
chile powder

Are there equivalent seasonings in other countries? In Indian cooking, there’s chaat masala, a sour spice I cannot get enough of. Li hing is a powdered format of Chinese dried plum that’s popular in Hawaii. I tried to come up with a US approximation of it but came up blank. I’m asking only partially out of culinary curiosity and mostly because I’m going to need one of each, stat.

chile-lime melon salad
chile-lime melon salad

Previously

One year ago: Raspberry Crushed Ice
Two years ago: Apricot Pistachio Squares
Three years ago: Strawberry Lime and Black Pepper Popsicles
Four years ago: Charred Pepper Steak Sauce
Five years ago: Tomato Salad with Crushed Croutons
Six years ago: Zucchini and Almond Pasta Salad
Seven years ago: Lighter Airy Pound Cake
Eight years ago: Grilled Eggplant with Caponata Salsa
Nine years ago: Summer Berry Pudding

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Hot and Sour Soup
1.5 Years Ago: Oven-Braised Beef with Tomatoes and Garlic
2.5 Years Ago: Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake
3.5 Years Ago: Salted Caramel Brownies
4.5 Years Ago: Lasagna Bolognese

Chile-Lime Melon Salad

  • Servings: 2 hungry people or 4 as a side
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Print

I used a mix of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew here but you could use all of one or a mix of two. You might also use mango and pineapple or other stone fruits (peaches, apricots and plums). Even vegetables (cucumber and jicama, maybe with avocado too) will taste good with this treatment. I used a melon baller to cut the melon but chunks and/or slices will work just as well (and be less wasteful). I used cotija cheese but if you can’t get it, ricotta salata is a close swap, followed by feta, but look for a very firm one. Finally, this salad more than all others needs to be made to taste; I jotted down the proportions I used but you might want more or less salt, cheese, lime, heat herbs and then some, so adjust it accordingly.

  • 4 cups chopped or balled melon (from about 1 cantaloupe or honeydew, or 1/4 a large watermelon)
  • Juice of half a lime, divided, plus more to taste
  • Coarse salt, to taste
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 3 tablespoons crumbled cotija cheese
  • 1 tablespoon toasted pepitas (I like the salty ones)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, plus more to taste

Place melon in a wide bowl or on a platter. Squeeze half lime juice over, adding second half to taste, then sprinkle with salt and chili powder. Scatter with cheese, pepitas and cilantro and dig in.

Do ahead: I’d expected this salad not to keep at all but we found it just fine (with no watery run-off) after 2 hours in the fridge. I wouldn’t keep it assembled too much longer, though. You don’t want the salt to draw the juices out of the fruit before you eat it, and it’s quick enough to put together at the last minute.

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84 comments on chile-lime melon salad

  1. JP

    I saw this sort of salad sold at a flea market in Arizona, of all places. Just the melon and spices. It surprised me because the only way I had ever had melon was plain. This looks so pretty and I am sure tastes wonderful. Thanks!

  2. liz

    Iranians quite enjoy various sorts of unripe fruit (sour green plums, or immature, fuzzy green almonds) with salt. They is also golpar, or ground angelica root, that is sprinkled things, somewhat similar to this.

  3. Have you tried Persian ground dried lime? It adds a really interesting sour, tart flavor, much more earthy and complex than regular ol’ lime zest. You can get it from Sadaf online. It’s traditionally used for stews, but it’s also great in a marinade, spice rub, etc.

  4. jcbavoso’s idea of Old Bay as an equivalent makes sense to me, which then got me thinking about Lawry’s seasoned salt, or Mrs. Dash. I don’t much keep Lawry’s around anymore, but now I want to go try it on some melon!

    (Right after I try this as written, I mean, cause… yeah.)

      1. deb

        You could use it, but it wouldn’t be my choice here. I find it pretty mild and the dried herb component (not all za’atars have dried herbs, but many do) might be weird on juicy melon.

  5. witloof

    I have a package of dried sour mango powder I bought at Kalustyan’s that i like very much for seasoning roast vegetables that might work here.

      1. Janet

        It is and I think I like it even better than Tajiin which I tracked down after buying a fruit paleta (Mexican ice pop) dipped in it! I just cut up a mango or melon and sprinkle!

  6. SG

    NOPA in SF has been serving a delicious dish that’s very similar to this (Watermelon/Honeydew, Purslane, Pumpkin Seeds, Olive Oil, Chile Flakes, and Ricotta/Burrata). I actually recreated it at home, which was surprisingly easy. I’ll try your version next.

  7. Denise

    I live in CA on the US-Mexico border and everything you said rings true. We can’t live without this stuff! My favorite fruit/vegetable combo with tajin is jicama (need it for texture), cucumber, orange, & pineapple, with lime juice & served cooold.

    1. deb

      But is it sour? (I admit not using it often.) To me, the addictiveness of tajin and chaat masala are that they’re sour and spicy and salty together.

  8. Jen

    I fell in love with Tajin on a trip to Puerto Vallarta last winter (I quizzed the waitress about what it was when we got a delicious little dish of tajin-spiced jicama as an app) & and immediately snapped it up when I saw it at one of the touristy gift shops in downtown P.V. But imagine my surprise a couple months later to see a rather large display of it in the produce section of my DC area Safeway! So don’t despair, maybe your local grocery has it in stock as well!

  9. You make me want to go to Mexico all the more.
    Melon is my favorite summer meal. Sometimes just a nice cantaloupe, by itself. Sometimes, a melon with Serrano.
    This hot/sweet version is a must while the season is in full swing. Thanks!

  10. Rose Sanchez

    Pretty much my go to breakfast throughout the summer! Great idea adding the cotija or feta cheese. Lovely meal for the summer months!

  11. Ellen N.

    Hi Deb,

    Thanks for posting this recipe. It looks delicious. You’ve been mentioning that you are dreaming of visiting Southern California. I live in Los Angeles. Will it tip the scales if I tell you that we have Mexican fruit vendors on street corners all over the place? They have a selection of fruit and vegetables (jicama. oranges, mangoes, cantaloupe, pineapple, coconut, cucumber, etc.) which they cut up to order. You can get any combination you like. They have chile powder, limons and salt any of which you can have them add or leave off. The carts always have a rainbow colored umbrella over them.

    1. deb

      Oh, not visiting. I want to live there, at least for a while or, like, March when NYC is unforgivably cold and you guys are eating, like, avocados and strawberries. This doesn’t help. :) :)

      1. Ellen N.

        Los Angeles would love to have you live here for as long as you like. Here’s even more temptation. We have weekly farmers’ markets 52 weeks a year. We always have avocados. Strawberries started this year in January and yes, they were good.

  12. Emily Hodge

    I devour whole cantaloupes with a Thai-style variation of this salad from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper cookbook: cantaloupe or other melon with a sprinkle of fish sauce, lime juice, Sriracha (or diced jalapeno), a touch of sugar (depending on the melon), and chopped basil or cilantro. Can’t wait to try this salad!

  13. Nandi

    This is similar to fruit chat. Chat masala which is a combination of spices – hot, sour and salty that Indians love to sprinkle on almost anything potatoes, fruits, vegetables, etc.

  14. Tone

    Tajin is carried in Costco stores in the Bay Area (CA). In Jamaica, I grew up eating half ripe mangos sliced and sprinkled w/salt, lime/vinegar and diced fresh scotch bonnet pepper. Cucumbers received the same delicious treatment.

  15. Kathy D

    My sister lived in New Orleans for a few years, and she introduced us all to Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. 30 years later our family is all still hooked. http://www.tonychachere.com/Original-Creole-Seasoning-Multi-Pack-P1268.aspx
    I use this on everything. Maybe not an American seasoning, but certainly a strong regional one. It used to be very hard to find up here in the northeast, but now it pops up in markets. Or we order it directly, like we always did.

  16. Ashley

    So I’m thoroughly addicted to tajin. We put it on corn (and have addicted many others to this combo), but I also love it on avocado toasts (it’s the lime + chili combo). So happy you’re bringing it to all of us!

  17. Yum. I bet my boys will like it.
    Earlier this year, we found Tajin at our local Aldi’s. Now even my five- and eight-year-olds don’t want to eat watermelon without it.

  18. francescabruzzese

    This looks beautiful and refreshing — another stellar recipe, as usual!! I’m going to forward the link to my many Mexican friends who all adore tajin and would love this :)

  19. Hi Deb
    Don’t mean to be a pest but I hope that you are still working on fixing the link “read more” so that it works. Thanks much, love your blog, and am always impressed with how you manage to come up with one more interesting and tempting recipe after another.

  20. Tess Williams

    Tony Chachere’s is the Gulf Coast equivalent- its in every pantry, every restaurant, goes amazing on every savory food!
    This looks amazing- and I can’t wait to order a bottle of this seasoning!

  21. francescabruzzese

    This looks so very refreshing, perfect for the super hot temperatures (and scarce air conditioning) in Rome this time of year! Another stellar recipe from your site. Thanks for sharing!

  22. Yael

    My kid LOVES the fresh mango, sometimes on a stick, or cut in chunks and served inside a plastic bag, and sprinkled with chili powder, lime or lemon juice, and salt that you can find (if you’re lucky!) at Latin American outdoor stands/stalls in NYC. We also love making Mediterranean-inspired melon (usually watermelon) and feta salads all summer long. This sounds like the perfect hybrid! Recently, while at Trader Joe’s I spotted a Chile-Lime Seasoining blend that sounds like it would be PERFECT for this salad, which I do believe I will be making before summer ends!

  23. Randi

    Tajín is the food of the gods! I love it on pineapple and mangoes the best but I would never say no to cucumbers and melons either. My husband lives for corn on the cob with tajín The lazy version of elote. I just want to eat everything with tajín now! YUM!

  24. Susan

    There are spices I love to distraction. One is Tajín. The combination of chili, lime and salt is intoxicating. If you can’t find it in your grocery, it is available at Amazon in a variety of sizes of bottles, in both powder and liquid form. It is delicious on just as many foods as you say, Deb! Thank you for suggesting all the foods you’ve eaten it with, and for giving a recipe that uses your own version of it! Thanks, too, to Denise for suggesting the fruit/veg combination which I’m calling Denise’s Fruit-Veg Border Salad in my notes. I’ve made a list of the other spice combinations (those not in my kitchen) made in the comments…especially Persian ground lime which I must find! This post and comments are like water to a woman dying of thirst. My mother, who was a very good cook, had/used only salt, pepper, sage, cardamom, nutmeg, and cinnamon. After being exposed to pizza in my teens, I despaired of duplicating the flavors, as the only local version of pizza in our village in Northern Minnesota was a package of Jeno’s Pizza. It was a tiny village. I now have a whole cupboard dedicated to spices and seasonings, arranged in alphabetical order. Of course I read these smitten kitchen.com posts daily! Praise be for email postings!

  25. Jan

    I found no place to link to the rest of this post from my email. That said, this looks good, if I can get past just eating melon when I so rarely get a good one. And I go to farmers’ markets in CA! Please don’t chuck that scooped out melon–take a spoon to it. And eat it. Also, my mother would have loved this recipe. She often served cantaloupe halves with a scoop of lime sherbet, even though the rest of the family wasn’t crazy about it. Need I say that my dad was a good sport?

  26. Sally

    Deb, I can’t help but wonder if tajin might be a good seasoning for the cucumber and tomato salads you like.

    I just bought some of the Trader Joe’s Chile Lime Seasoning and will try it on mango at lunch.

  27. Flo

    This is totally delicious and extremely easy. I live in the UK where chilli powder is spicier than in the US as far as I can tell — seems more like cayenne — so I used a little less than the recipe suggested but actually it could have taken more.

  28. Gabs

    This is absolutely delicious! I made it with cheese from my local central American run corner store just marked “queso para frijoles” (cheese for beans)- the texture is similar to cotija and it’s nice and salty. I used watermelon, cantelope, and galia melon. I’m planning on keeping them cut up in my fridge this week so I can add the toppings for a quick meal,

  29. I hope you know that you can order tajin on Amazon. I’m also going to check out my local South American and Asian shops- they seem to have a lot of unusual seasonings!

    This looks awesome. Love melon with lime- but spice? An adventure awaits.
    Thanks for all you do!

  30. Hi, I’ve used a kampot spice powder that has some similar qualities – kampot Cambodian pepper, lime, and salt. Mostly I’ve been using it on vegetables but now I’m thinking it would be great with a version of this salad!

  31. Cayenne&Lime

    So I grew up eating fruit like this while visiting family in Mexico and it’s always been my favorite. Decided to try it on vegetables for something new — used a cucumber, jicama, avocado and some radishes that I needed to use up. Swapped for feta for the cotija bc that’s what I had on hand and used the whole lime. It was delicious — my husband immediately requested it go in the permement rotation. Thanks so much for the idea!

  32. Mmm yum. Reminds me of Thailand, where on the street you can buy chunks of fruit with little bags of a sweet, salty, spicy, citrusy, and occasionally fishy (!) dipping powder. Paired with their outstanding mangoes, it was one of the best things I ate there.

  33. Deb, I need help! Your new website isn’t working for me. When you send a new recipe, for example today’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Icebox Cake, I have no trouble reading the first part. But when I get to “Read the rest of >>” I can’t click because no arrow will appear. Viewing in browser doesn’t help. However I am able to click on More Recent Articles and the links there work just fine. So I can access recipes, but I am always one post behind. Today when I couldn’t get the recipe for icebox cake I was finally able to read the recipe for Chile-Lime Melon Salad. Please tell me the problem is on your end and you can fix it for me! Thanks.

  34. Sophia

    My SIL recently introduced me to tajin on the rim of a margarita glass in place of the traditional salt. Totally amazing and addictive!

  35. Sarah Wooding

    As soon as you said ‘Chile-lime-salt’ I thought of chaat masala – and then was surprised/happy to see you have already discovered it. It’s my go-to topping for summer salad – apart from fruit/cucumber it also goes well with chickpeas & yoghurt, and with sprouted moong beans – quick & easy to make in the summer heat :)

  36. Jeff

    Love this. Got the Tajin from Amazon and the first night made a fruit salad with fantastic nectarines, white peach, lime wedges, salted peanuts, and a little crumbled feta. In other words this is very versatile. The second night we had it with watermelon, good although the melon was not as good as I’d hoped. The nectarines were far more memorable.

    Unrelated, any idea why I can’t see or make comments from my iPad? Phone and MacBook are fine.

  37. jodikaplan

    That sounds divine! I have all the ingredients (except the pepitas, but a quick trip to Fairway can fix that). Just the thing for this hot weather!

  38. Denise

    This was SO delicious. I recommended it to all my friends. I found myself slurping up the juice at the end, which got me thinking about attempting the popsicle version of this, too. Was thinking i could just puree each of the melons (with lime, cilantro, salt, chile powder) separately and then pour into popsicle molds. 1/3 of each for each popsicle…. would you do anything differently, Deb?

  39. preets1

    There are sour/hot/savoury fruit condiments all over Asia, I think. You mentioned two of the big ones (chaat — the key ingredient is the black salt) and Li Hing Mui; in Malaysia we eat guava (not the soft pink-fleshed kind but the crunchy white-fleshed variety) with Li Hing Mui. At my school canteen in Malaysia they used to sell those as well as jicama slices with a kind of sweet, thick chili sauce and crushed peanuts. But for me, having tried all of these, the star in this category is still a Malaysian fruit salad called “rojak buah” which is related to the Thai version several people mention above (you can Google it — it has chili, fermented shrimp paste, sugar, thick soy sauce, crushed peanuts, and some other ingredients, and is UNBELIEVABLY delicious). (A simpler version my dad used to make at home has just mangoes (preferably unripe if you are hardcore) with soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sliced chilis and sugar.) The mix of fruits and vegetables in rojak buah is flexible but one important topping is these flour fritters that shatter between your teeth.

  40. Valerie – Toronto

    Made this for a small weekday dinner party – it’s similar to a Rick Bayliss dish I make with jicama, radish, and mango – but I really wanted something seasonal so melon was perfect. I forgot the cilantro in the end but the dish didn’t suffer. Works with barbecued duck. Thanks, Deb!

  41. smathes1

    I made this with jicama, watermelon, and a surprise melon (honeydew on the outside, cantaloupe on the inside… anyone know what that is?) with feta and cilantro and pepitas. Do not skimp on the pepitas!! They add SO much more to the dish. Instead of just chile powder, I keep a bowl of chile salt in the cabinet (from the Tacolicious cookbook, used originally for margarita rims but perfect on everything): 4 T kosher salt, 1 T sweet paprika, 1 T cayenne, 1 T chile powder. I love this combination. Deb, this salad has made my week. So easy and SO GOOD.

  42. Elizabeth

    I’ve been eating this on repeat for the last 4 nights (being single has its perks)… it is absolutely perfect for hot summer nights. I’m not typically a fan of honeydew so I’ve been using just watermelon and cantaloupe, but last night I was feeling ‘adventurous’ and added avocado and cucumber in with the melon and that was also delicious. I love finding new simple staple recipes – this has definitely made the list!

  43. Susan

    Made this with queso fresco because that’s what I could find at my local store, served it up with some fish tacos, and it was super tasty! I’ll keep an eye out for cotija.