Recipes

watermelon cucumber salad

We’ve decided to spend as much time as humanly possible at the beach this summer, which has led to my other new favorite habit: grabbing a few cookbooks I’ve been meaning to go through and reading them en route. In the fleeting moments when the kids have limited their bickering in the backseat and the traffic isn’t too terrible, when I’ve been away from my laptop and the kitchen for enough hours that I’m ready to absorb new inspiration, I find myself more open-minded and curious to try new recipes than I am, understandably, in the thick of deadlines and or hangry o’clock, approximately 6:15pm when dinner is nowhere near done.


basically all you need

Two weekends ago it was Saladish, a cookbook from Ilene Rosen, who is the chef and co-owner of R&D Foods in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn and previously did a 15-year stint as the savory chef at City Bakery, creating a salad bar with a cult following. This book is a natural progression. “All of the food I really like to eat and make is saladish,” she says in the intro, something I immediately related to. To me, salads are meals and meals can be salads, and only a fraction of them really need leafy greens. Layers of grains or roasted or raw shaved vegetables plus something pickled or punchy and something crunchy and herby and a good vinaigrette; I ate lunch 15 minutes ago and I literally made myself hungry again typing that.

watermelon triangles

I struggled a little as the book continued because I kept running into ingredients I didn’t keep around, pappadum, green garlic, makrut lime leaves, Chinese preserved cabbage, pea greens, and honestly, this is barely the tip of the iceberg. There wasn’t a recipe that didn’t have something that required an extra grocery run (easy for me to get in NYC, but still, I am lazy, and even when I overcome it, I know you guys would appreciate me finding alternatives) but wait, come back. You see, the sun was shining in the windows, little puffs of popcorn clouds dotted a blazingly blue sky, the shore towns were approaching, and I decided to stop being such a curmudgeon and look beyond these sticking points, which in many places are merely accents or extras. And here, at the base of each recipe, I found a dozen things I couldn’t wait to make.

ricotta salata matchsticks

There is so much innovation and inspiration in this book, it would be a shame to miss it over a few shopping hurdles, especially if you’re looking to shake up your salad game. Salads are inherently flexible, tinkering is encouraged; if you can’t get or don’t want to track anything you see here down, make the parts that call to you. This is what I did and it wasn’t three days before I’d made the roasted and pickled cauliflower salad, fell in love with the charred summer squash salad (when you see it, you’ll understand), plotted a dinner with the Vietnamese-style tofu salad at the center very soon, and another with a grainy potato-cucumber salad, and told two people about the “I heart fennel” salad, an unapologetic fronds-to-bulb love letter to the unpopular (but not with me) vegetable.

layer it up
watermelon and cucumber salad

This watermelon salad, an updated take on classic watermelon and feta, is, as promised, nothing like the book’s version, which includes chysantemum leaves and shiso. I was so enamored with the toasted pepitas, matchsticks of ricotta salata (which is softer and a little mellower than feta), and triangles of watermelon (she includes a cutting guide for this, and many other, vegetables; I have utter confidence in my ability to cut up fruits and vegetables and still learned a few tricks). Fancy leaves? Nah, I used a thinly sliced cucumber; it holds up better in a salad anyway. Olive oil, sea salt, and many grinds of black pepper finish it and the result is so simple but so refreshing, an instant new classic for us I didn’t know I was looking for. Which, after all, is the point of a great cookbook, right?

watermelon and cucumber salad

Previously

One year ago: Grilled Pepper and Torn Mozzarella Panzanella and Crispy Spiced Lamb and Lentils
Two years ago: The Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookie, Revisited and Charred Eggplant and Walnut Pesto Pasta Salad
Three years ago: Picnic Pink Lemonade and Crispy Frizzled Artichokes
Four years ago: Coconut Brown Butter Cookies and Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad
Five years ago: Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies and Bowties with Sugar Snaps, Lemon and Ricotta
Six years ago: Asparagus with Almonds and Yogurt Dressing and Strawberries and Cream Biscuits
Seven years ago: Fudge Popsicles and Dobos Torte
Eight years ago: Rustic Rhubarb Tarts, Scrambled Egg Toast, and Strawberry Brown Butter Bettys
Nine years ago: Grilled Shrimp Cocktail, Graham Crackers, and Pesto Potato Salad with Green Beans
Ten years ago: Breakfast Apricot Crisp and Dead Simple Slaw
Eleven years ago: Zucchini Carpaccio Salad and Black-Bottom Cupcakes

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Endive Salad with Toasted Walnuts
1.5 Years Ago: Sheet Pan Spinach Quiche and Chocolate Caramel Crunch Almonds
2.5 Years Ago: Date Breakfast Squares and Parsley Pecorino Biscuits
3.5 Years Ago: Cranberry Pie with Thick Pecan Crumble and Twice-Baked Potatoes with Kale
4.5 Years Ago: Cauliflower with Brown Butter Crumbs and Parsley Leaf Potatoes

Watermelon Cucumber Salad

A couple notes: All of the amounts listed here are what I used, but consider them loosely and adjust to taste. I don’t think anyone is buying watermelon by the ounce, but rather grabbing what their store or market has. On a flavor note: I love this ingredient combination (watermelon and cucumber and salty, crunchy accents) so much, if you’re feeling creative, here are a few more directions do go with it: 1. Add some fresh slivered mint leaves and or razor-thin slivers of red onion. 2. Add the chile-lime flavors we use in this melon salad, or 3. I am eager to make this with a Indian chaat flavor vibe; if you can find chat masala spice packets, I promise it will be absolutely glorious sprinkled over this salad at the end. (This is my go-to brand.)

  • About 1/4 a large seedless watermelon or 1 small (mini) watermelon
  • 2 small (Perisan-style) seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces ricotta salata, cut into matchsticks
  • 1/4 cup toasted, salted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepperr

For small watermelon, halve it and then place each half cut side down and cut each half into 8 pie-like slices. Remove the rinds from each and cut each wedge into 1/2-inch thick triangles. For a larger watermelon, cut it into smaller wedges, remove the rinds, and cut into 1/2-inch thick triangles.

On a large platter, scatter a thick layer of watermelon triangles, followed by a thinner scattering of cucumbers, ricotta salata matchsticks and pepitas. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Repeat this rustic layering and seasoning until your ingredients are used up, finishing with an extra generous drizzle of olive oil. Eat at once!

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58 comments on watermelon cucumber salad

  1. The ricotta salata sounds quite a great substitute for feta here. Though the different geometric shapes are weirding me out a little but at the same time are oddly appealing since they keep reminding me of a set I had in preschool. Will try.

  2. Rob Whitman

    Hi Deb,

    About ten years ago (or more?) Mark Bittman did his watermelon and tomato salad. If by some chance you haven’t found and made it please do. I’m sure it’s online at NYT or through the archived minimalist stuff.
    It is seriously yummy and my kids (10 & 15) can eat it by the bucketful. Watermelon, cherry tomatoes, blue cheese, scallion, olive oil, cherry vinegar, salt. I think that’s it.

    Thanks for sharing so many great meals to cook and eat!

    1. Sarah

      Not sure if he posted it separately as well, but I think it was part of an article he did on 101 simple salads. I go back to that list all the time.

  3. Madison

    This looks fabulous! Unfortunately, I’m allergic to sheep and goat dairy, which means ricotta salata and feta are out for me. Do you think queso fresco would be a good swap? Any other cow-dairy substitutes you would use?

    1. I find queso fresco a little sharper and harder than ricotta salata, but ricotta salata does not exist where I do, and I can get queso fresco just about anywhere, so I substitute it all the time for both ricotta salata and feta (which I can get pretty easily but don’t care for all that much). I think it will be just fine here.

    2. jessica taylor

      there is also cotija cheese – crumbly, delicious and usually made with cow’s milk. it is really salty, though – so maybe scale back on the salt in the salad.

  4. liz

    do you have a go to olive oil? it’s hard because I dont want to take a gamble on one when even the cheap ones aren’t actually cheap

    1. deb

      I don’t. I think it’s worth starting at the low end of prices (knowing that the odds of them being pure olive oil are, sadly, slim) and working your way up until you find one you love. I tend to keep two around, a workhorse (I use this brand a lot), and a fancier one for drizzling, usually something we’ve brought back from a vacation.

    2. MaggieToo

      My favorite for an everyday/all-purpose evoo that’s generally available in supermarkets is Colavita, which I can often find on sale for $12/liter. But I think I’ll try the Partanna that Deb linked to, too.

  5. jkricks

    I was just wondering why there is no vinegar used…? I think I would like vinegar on this, perhaps a sherry vinegar (but I LURVE vinegar…so, yeah.)

    Looks like a great side dish to a barbecue… noms.

  6. Lisa

    There’s a gorgeous salad of watermelon + feta + za’atar that sometimes makes its way around the internet… so so good…

  7. Adrian

    This looks wonderful! I’m trying to imagine a non-dairy substitute for the cheese. Maybe I’ll just skip it and add more pepitas. Or dust chili-lime powder on slices of hard-boiled egg, to get a texture in there that doesn’t crunch.

  8. Marcia

    Penzeys has a new sprinkle called “Pico Fruta” which is a blend of Chile, citrus, cilantro and more, which might be nice on this. .

  9. Mairi-a

    🇨🇾In Cyprus the most ubiquitous dish , served in a cooler Mediterranean evening here,would be
    sliced watermelon 🍉 thick slices of halloumi+ 🇨🇾Kefalotiri cheese and Cypriot sourdough village bread… it’s a must!

  10. sinaasappeljetzt

    Hi Deb,
    I really love your approach on this cookbook! I probably wouldn’t have bothered with it long enough and would have missed out on all the interesting ideas. This is really inspiring – thank you!
    Also, we’ll have watermelon-cucumber-salad today, so thanks again :-)
    Sina

  11. Jane M

    Luckily my town has a grocer that has Riccota salata! I have made this recipe in the past, but I also use lime juice and a bit of the zest – soooooo refreshing and delish! PS How do you read in a car? I can’t look down AT ALL – don’t even ask :). Happy SUMMER!

    1. deb

      Here are the books currently on my coffee table, i.e. I plan to cook from them as soon as possible: Repertoire, Dosa Kitchen, Eat A Little Better (there is an impressive amount of cooking inspiration here, btw, and the recipe ingredient lists are delightfully short), Marbled, Swirled and Layered (a couple years old but so good), Bread, Toast, Crumbs (from last year but there’s something in here I’ve been wanting to share for a while), Six Seasons (we’ve already discussed this but I don’t see myself putting this away for a while), The Palestinian Table (I love this story about how the book got made), Shaya, River Cafe London, Nantucket Open House Cookbook (from 1987 but deeply loved by many; apparently a favorite cookbook of Ina Garten too!)

      Would it be good to have a page or feature here with all the cookbooks that have ever been referenced on this site, index-style?

      1. MaggieToo

        Hooray for the Sarah Leah Chase ‘Nantucket’ book! Also, if you get the chance, her book ‘Cold Weather Cooking’ is the BEST. I’m on my second copy ’cause I wore out the first.

  12. clairezulkey

    Interesting to hear what you got out of Saladish. I ultimately passed it on to a friend because I knew deep down I would never pursue those ingredients. I stink at shopping at the farmer’s market let alone the FANCY farmers market. I am literally eating salad from a bag right now so I needed something a little more dumbed down, ingredients-wise.

    1. deb

      I hear you. It was our conversation that pushed me to finally go through my copy. I think there’s some great ideas there, but it works best if you’re willing to make adjustments to what you have. (Most salad recipes will work regardless.)

  13. HH

    Ok, I didn’t even think I liked watermelon, and now this salad is all I want to eat for the remainder of the summer (or for as long as watermelons are available). I had green onions and cilantro on hand so added a bit of each, and used feta because it’s what I could find. Ugh. It’s so good. Strangely filling for being mostly watery fruits and veggies. My only tip would be to really toast the pepitas, like almost burn em, so they hold up in the liquid of the dish – they lend an enormous amount of flavor.

  14. Diana

    Thanks for this great recipe. I made it tonight and it was a hit! I used sunflower seeds because that’s what I had on hand and they were also good with it. We will definitely be making this againnthis summer. Thank you!!

  15. Joe

    I love a watermelon salad in the summer. I use thinly sliced daikon instead of cucumber (bit of heat, and more texture contrast with watermelon than cucumber), and fried halloumi instead of ricotta. Lots of mint, and a nice sweet/sour dressing with pomegranate molasses. Will try adding pumpkin seeds next time!

  16. My husband absolutely hates ricotta. I read the comments others made and saw someone wanted to use queso fresco, but that was because she couldn’t eat feta. Would you recommend feta over the queso fresco?
    I love your additional note to maybe add sliced red onions! I’m definitely going to do that.

  17. Suzanne

    So…last nights dinner was seasoned lamb patties on the grill with this salad as a side – (knew I’d like it…but testing the water) – his words “You can make this again any time, it’s delicious!” I did use feta because that’s what I use to mix with the lamb. Tonight’s dinner will be a much larger plate of JUST this salad. Thank you!!

  18. Jacqueline Meldrum

    I’ve not had a watermelon salad for years, but now I am craving this. There is something rather special about the combination of watermelon and milky soft cheese. I like to add a balsamic dressing, but never add seeds or cucumber so I must try that.

  19. MaggieToo

    I’m surprised to see you not seeding your cucumbers. I thought I remembered reading on here that you find the seeds bitter, which I certainly do too. (Even on the long English cucumbers.)

  20. Wow! I tried this today and it tastes so good! I used thinly sliced cottage cheese instead of the ricotta salata. I had really got bored of my usual recipe with Cottage cheese(need to eat everyday as part of my diet). Thank god, I stumbled upon this page. It’ll be my new fav for days to come :)

  21. Russ

    Really nice recipe. Worth using your best drizzling olive oil. I was tempted to add smoked paprika to the mix but refrained. It did not need it but maybe next time I’ll give it a try?