I took some time off from blogging for reflection and inspiration. I’m now back to the craft and think Berryer Cooks will better represent my ongoing journey with food from many perspectives. My super easy summer classic, Chilled Watermelon Chop Salad, seems like the right post for the endless heat wave we seem to be having.
The two top watermelon producing states are Texas and Georgia. Since I’ve lived in both since 2000, I’m pretty sure this explains the yearning I have each year for watermelon season to begin. Starting around July 4th I eat watermelon in some form just about every day until shortly after Labor Day when it is no longer grown regionally.
Over the years, I’ve created dozens of variations on watermelon salad. This Chilled Watermelon Chop Salad is my go-to absolute favorite version. The cold, juicy watermelon is highlighted with puckery lime juice, mildly acidic sherry vinegar, minty basil, spicy jalapeno, and the addition of other juicy or crunchy summer veggies.
At the end of the recipe I have included a list of other flavors for dietary or flavor preferences. However you make it, Chilled Watermelon Chop Salad offers a healthy option just about any time of the day. I often eat it as a breakfast salad when the dog days of summer set in and I need a something even lighter than yogurt or steel cut oats.
After many taste tests I’ve decided seeded watermelons are the sweetest kind. Anyone who remembers spitting out the seeds from wedges of watermelon in the summer knows what I mean. The sterile hybrid known as the seedless watermelon was developed 50 years ago and started showing up regularly in supermarkets in the 80s. Now over 80% of all watermelons sold are seedless. Unless the trend is reversed by the heirloom foodies, the future of seeded watermelon looks bleak. While you still can, trust me and find a seeded watermelon at your market and taste the difference!
Folks have many different opinions on picking the perfect watermelon. Years ago when we were on vacation in South Carolina, a farmer showed my then tweenage daughter how to thump a watermelon to pick a ripe one. Now in college, my girl is now a seasoned watermelon whisperer and can pick through a bin of watermelons; knocking and listening intently to find a sweet and juicy watermelon every time. She jokes that I walk away and pretend I don’t know her whenever performs this odd ritual. This may or may not be true.
The trick she says is to make sure the watermelon has a nice yellowish spot on it and pick the heaviest one for its weight. Then knock on it. A solid thump means it’s ripe, a hollow echo means it’s underripe, and a dead, heavy sound means it’s overripe. Strange as it sounds, this approach works every time. If you’re shy about holding a watermelon up to your ear and thumping it in public, put the burden of picking your melon on the farmer at the Farmer’s Market or the produce guy at the supermarket.
Once you make this salad, chill it a bit before serving to maximize the refreshing qualities of the watermelon. It will pickle slightly and become a bit more watery after being chilled longer than a few hours, yet will still taste great for a few days.
Chilled Watermelon Chop Salad
- 3 cups seeded watermelon, seeds removed and cut into 1/2″ dice
- 1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2″ dice
- 1 cup tomato, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2″ dice
- 1 cup red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2″ squares
- 1/2 a red onion, cut into quarters then sliced
- 2 tsp minced jalapeño pepper
- 1 Tbs fresh lime juice
- 1 Tbs sherry vinegar
- 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup basil, chiffonaded (stack 5 leaves at a time on top of each other, roll up and cut 1/4″ apart into strips)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper, fresh ground
- Optional: 1 cup feta, cut into 1/2″ diced. Add feta to make a more substantial salad, leave it out when the weather is super hot and you just want to be refreshed or to make the salad vegan.
Other Flavor Options:
- Omit red onion and add 1/2 cup sliced scallions or sliced Vidalia onions (or any kind of sweet onions)
- Omit basil and add 1/4 cup of cilantro, chive, dill, or mint OR a combination of herbs you like
- Add 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
- Omit red pepper and add 1/2 cup of 1/2″ diced apple. Do this towards the end of watermelon season when fall is in the air.
- Omit sherry vinegar and add 2 Tbs rice wine vinegar, red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar
- Omit jalapeño and add a dash of Tabasco or a pinch chile powde
- Instead of feta use 1 cup crumbled ricotta salata
In a large bowl, very gently mix all ingredients with you hands until combined. Chill and serve.