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Because it is September but I want to extend the summer vibe a bit longer, I’m sharing our favorite discovery of the year thus far: spicy watermelon salad. I have used watermelon to make gazpacho before, so I knew it could stand up to savory flavors, but this salad was a revelation nonetheless. With sour citrus and cool mint to round out the sweet and spice, I can’t help but think of this dish as a culinary perpetual motion project– you take a bite, feel the tingle of spice in your mouth and take another bite to cool off with refreshing watermelon. Repeat, repeat.

When I go out for Thai or Vietnamese food, I always order a green mango or papaya salad if it’s on the menu. They have the same heat-and-sweet flavor profile I enjoy so much in this watermelon salad. I added some shredded green papaya to one of my salads this summer for some texture and color variation; you can also use jicama or cucumber, or just stay with all melon. Served with grilled shrimp, fish or chicken, this will be a salad people ask you about. They will want the recipe. It may be September, but there will still be sunny weekends and warm evenings for picnics and cookouts, and melons are abundant and so good at this time of the year. Try something new, fresh and surprising for your next potluck or barbecue.

spicy watermelon salad

Spicy Watermelon Salad (adapted from Scaling Back Blog)

  • 4 – 6 cups watermelon, rind removed, cubed or balled
  • 1 c. shredded green papaya, jicama or cucumber (optional)
  • 2 T. fresh lime juice
  • 2 T. fresh orange juice
  • 1 T. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 T. fish sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. sriracha
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • kosher salt to taste
  • 1/4 c. torn mint leaves
  • 1/4 c. torn rau ram leaves (optional)*

Prepare the watermelon as desired and put into a large bowl. Add shredded green papaya, cucumber or jicama if using. (Green papaya is in the picture.) In a smaller bowl, whisk together the lime juice, orange juice, rice wine vinegar, fish sauce, sriracha and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the watermelon and gently toss to combine. Taste and add salt, if necessary. Transfer to a serving dish (or hollowed watermelon rind for a fun presentation) and allow to sit for at least 30 mins., up to 2 hours.

Just before serving, toss in the mint leaves and rau ram, if using. Spicy watermelon salad is best the day you make it but will keep in the refrigerator for a day or two.

*Rau ram can be found in the produce section of most well-stocked Asian specialty markets. If you can’t find it, add a little more mint or some Thai basil, or just omit.