As soon as it arrives, it feels like summer starts slipping away–but this watermelon tomato salad is the ticket to helping the summer vibes linger a bit longer! Fresh tomatoes are at their peak right now, as is juicy, sweet watermelon. Rather than keep the two separate, alone in their own salad bowls, try combining them together in this juicy, refreshing summer salad. A little bit savory, a little bit sweet, and endlessly refreshing!
This extra-juicy salad makes the most of both summer watermelon and ripe heirloom tomatoes!
If you’ve ever sprinkled chili-lime salt on fresh watermelon, then you already know how well watermelon responds to a pop of salt. That’s why watermelon and feta salads are so wonderful in the summer–cool, crunchy melon and creamy salty feta is one of the best combos to beat the heat.
Tomatoes are no different. Each season it’s like we can’t get enough of them, dressed simply with a slosh of olive oil and salt, and served with fresh cheese. Mozzarella or burrata, goat cheese, feta: they’re all perfect partners for the sweet-savory juices of peak season heirloom tomatoes.
This salad makes the most out of both by combining the sweet crunch of watermelon with the savory-juicy tooth of ripe tomatoes. A bit of salty feta, a handful of fresh herbs, and voilà! Summer in a bowl.
With a salad recipe this simple, the quality of your ingredients is crucial.
Some summer recipes can be cheated a bit in the off-season, to get a burst of that cheerful summer feeling amidst the doldrums of winter or early spring. Unfortunately, this isn’t one of them.
This summery salad really relies on beautiful, peak-season tomatoes and watermelon. It doesn’t matter how pretty it looks, a mealy, watery tomato can’t hide behind a simple glug of olive oil and salty cheese.
(Curious about what’s in season near you? Check out https://seasonalfoodguide.org/)
And speaking of olive oil and cheese… Those two ingredients need to be delicious, too.
Nothing ruins a salad (any salad!) like a heavy, bitter olive oil. It gets into every nook and cranny, coating each bite. If you don’t like the taste of your oil when licked off your pinky, then don’t use it. Especially in a salad this simple.
The oil adds an important grounding note and necessary fat to this otherwise bright, almost top-heavy salad. Tomatoes have an inherent savoriness, and the richness of the oil plays that up. It balances the bright, sweet, tangy flavors of the melon and acidic freshness of the tomato.
The cheese also adds an important grounding creaminess, in addition to its salty pop of flavor. Feta, which can be grassy in the same way a good olive oil can be grassy, adds both texture variation and flavor variation. It takes the tomato and watermelon base and transforms it from “fruit salad” to “full salad.”
A few extra (easy) steps take this salad from "standard" to "sensational."
The very first step of this recipe is tossing your watermelon and tomato with salt, and letting it sit. Salt attracts water, so salting your produce pulls water out and up to the surface. Draining off the juices that accumulate will make for a less wet salad. It also pre-seasons your produce, so your final salad will be super flavorful. Is this groundbreaking science? No. But for a salad of such wet fruit, it’s an important first step!
This next step is one I do for every salad, and this one is no exception: mellow your alliums! Some folks really dig the big, hot, bite of raw garlic, onion, or shallot. I often do, too, but sometimes I really don’t. It’s a mood thing. When I’m serving anybody else besides myself, whether it’s just my partner or a big group, I always let my onions and garlic mellow in the acidity of the dressing before putting everything together. You’ll still get that fresh flavor, but the bite is tamed and guaranteed to make everybody happy!
And finally, I suggest tearing your herbs instead of chopping. It’s gentler on the tender leaves, so you’ll keep that pretty green color longer. Tearing also makes it less likely that you’ll over-chop the herbs and make the pieces too small. In a simple, chunky salad like this one, slightly larger pieces of herb serve as cheerful pops of flavor and textural contrast. When chopped too finely the separate flavors can be lost in the dressing, and the small bits of leaf quickly turn soggy. Tear your herbs!
Looking for more recipes that just scream “summer?” Try these beauties out!
- This raw zucchini and summer squash salad is packed full of crunchy textures and bright, fresh flavors!
- My take on savory Spanish pisto manchego is the perfect way to cram in all of summer’s favorite veggies: eggplant, zucchini, tomato, and peppers!
- Nothing says summer quite like eating fresh corn raw, straight from the cob. This fresh corn and bean salad is one of my favorite ways to take advantage of in-season corn!
Notes for Success:
Keep in mind your personal preferences, and adjust the recipe accordingly. For example: do you dislike fresh mint? Omit it! Just increase the amount of basil. Do you find feta too assertive? Try tangy goat cheese or torn fresh mozzarella instead! Just increase the amount of salt when seasoning at the end.
As mentioned above, make sure to use oil that you actually want to taste. The final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil really ties this salad together. If you dislike the flavor of your olive oil use something else, like toasted peanut oil or walnut oil. Or, honestly, take this as a sign to buy a better olive oil! You won’t regret it!
One final pro-tip: Save the remaining juices that drain off of the watermelon and tomatoes. You’ll use a splash of this in the dressing, but the leftover juices are FANTASTIC when added to seltzer or used instead of lime in a classic margarita.
Watermelon Tomato Salad with Basil, Mint, and Feta
- ½ pound watermelon, cut into 1-inch chunks (About 2 cups)
- 1 pound ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks (About 4 cups)
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- ½ teaspoon honey or agave syrup
- 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
- Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
- ½ cup lightly packed fresh mint, torn if large
- ½ cup lightly packed fresh basil, torn if large
- 3 ounces feta, crumbled (About ¾ cup)
- Step 1In a large bowl, toss the watermelon and tomatoes with ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside.In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, honey, and shallot. Let stand for 10 minutes to allow the shallot to mellow and lightly infuse the vinegar.
- Step 2Drain off all but 1 tablespoon of accumulated juices from the melon and tomato mixture. Fold in the shallot mixture. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle generously with oil, then fold in the herbs and about ⅔ of the feta. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Serve immediately, ideally with grilled bread to sop up the juices.