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Showstopper Melon Salads

Pairing sweet, luscious melon with salty, savory elements is nothing new—it’s how you do it that can make all the difference.

Published June 1, 2020.

My Goals and Discoveries

Perfectly sweet melon

Because a melon’s sweetness can vary depending on how ripe it was when picked, the salads get sweetened with sugar or honey to taste.

Concentrated dressings that cling

Assertive dressings made with plenty of salty, pungent, and acidic ingredients balance the melons' high water content. Lots of chopped nuts, seeds, and herbs cling to the melon and hold on to the dressing. 

Big pieces/big contrast

Leaving the melon in large pieces accentuates the contrast between the well-seasoned exterior and the sweet interior.

Recipe

Watermelon Salad with Cotija and Serrano Chiles

Pairing sweet, luscious melon with salty, savory elements is nothing new—it's how you do it that can make all the difference.
Get the Recipe

I crave melon in the summer, and it turns out the urge might be physiological: We’re drawn to water-rich foods in hot weather because they keep us hydrated and because they require less energy to digest than high-fat or high‑protein foods. But after weeks of melon wedges, slices, cubes, and balls, I find myself wanting something more exciting, with a bit more texture and even salty, savory flavors. Enter melon salad.

At its root, it’s a pretty old concept. Greeks have been combining watermelon with salty feta cheese for centuries or perhaps millennia, and the pairing is genius: The sweetness of the fruit balances the brininess of the cheese, and the salty, crumbly cheese makes the melon seem even sweeter and more explosively juicy.

Somewhere along the line, cooks began to riff off this concept, pairing melon with all sorts of other salty, savory, and/or creamy ingredients and drizzling the whole thing with oil and vinegar. But these innovations can be problematic. Often the components don’t fully meld—or, worse, they overpower the melon—and the dressing can taste watered-down.

My mission was to rethink melon salad to make it more cohesive and balanced and to devise some enticing combinations that could be eaten as refreshing side dishes.

Strategies for Next-Level Melon Salad

In addition to incorporating salty and savory elements into my melon salads, I came up with these best practices.

Keep it melon‑focused.

Other sweet, juicy fruits will only compete with the melon, while additions such as tomatoes and cucumbers are distractingly similar to underripe melon and should also be avoided. If the melon lacks sweetness, give it a boost with a bit of sugar or honey.

Keep secondary components small.

Chunky pieces fall to the bottom of the bowl, but smaller ones cling to the melon and hold on to the dressing while they do so, ensuring that each piece is coated with flavor and texture.


Leave the melon large.

Fewer cut surfaces means less liquid will be exuded to water down the dressing. Larger pieces also accentuate the contrast between the melon’s well-seasoned exterior and sweet, juicy interior.



Add some heat.

A touch of fresh or dried chile adds an interesting dimension to ripe melon, which—though luscious—lacks zing.



Incorporate richness.

Nuts, seeds, cheese—even olives—all work well to balance the leanness of the fruit.

Add lots of herbal essence.

The fresh, grassy, aromatic flavors complement the sweet fruit.

Make an oil-free, citrusy dressing.

Oil just slips off the melon’s wet surface. Instead, use a dressing that’s bright, intense, and oil-free. I prefer the fruitiness of lemon or lime juice to vinegar, which can taste a little harsh with melon.



Shallot, garlic, Thai chiles, and fish sauce make a savory and salty dressing for sweet honeydew in this Thai-inspired combo. Cilantro, mint, and peanuts complete the dish.
In this twist on watermelon and feta salad, lime juice balances the sweet melon, and cotija cheese and pepitas provide richness. Serrano chiles add zip while scallions and cilantro contribute savoriness.
Red onion; Aleppo pepper; chopped parsley and mint; and briny, buttery‑rich oil‑cured olives give this salad Mediterranean flair.

Cantaloupe Salad with Olives and Red Onion

Pairing sweet, luscious melon with salty, savory elements is nothing new—it's how you do it that can make all the difference.
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Honeydew Salad with Peanuts and Lime

Pairing sweet, luscious melon with salty, savory elements is nothing new—it's how you do it that can make all the difference.
Get the Recipe

Watermelon Salad with Cotija and Serrano Chiles

Pairing sweet, luscious melon with salty, savory elements is nothing new—it's how you do it that can make all the difference.
Get the Recipe

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