kick up the heat

Summer is in full effect and it's almost July. Seriously, where did June go?! Time is FLYING by. For me, nothing says summer like fresh corn, berries, chilled wines, and perfectly tart homemade lemonade. For a lot of people, watermelon is on that list.

Can I be honest with you? Watermelon is not my favorite. In fact, 10 times out of 10 I'll give you my slice if it comes as a garnish on a plate. I gaze over it at BBQ's, and it's the only thing left at the bottom of my fruit cocktail bowl. I'm aware that this probably makes me un-american and not human… what can I say?! Something about the overly sweet mush that I'm not a huge fan of. Well, until I played around with it a bit. 

I got a big ole hunk of watermelon in my CSA last week. Talk about a disappointment. I decided to make it my mission to create a watermelon dish that I could enjoy (part of the reason why I joined a CSA in the first place - to be more adventurous/experimental in the kitchen). I'm happy to announce I was successful not once, but twice! Last Summer I remembered seeing an article from Tasting Table about a Chicago restaurant serving up a watermelon salad in a fun way. I rememberd thinking - that makes me want to try watermelon and I'm not even a fan of the fruit. THAT is how powerful presentation can be in the world of food. No matter what kind of food I'm making, I always try my best to make it look fun/interesting/appetizing. So today I give you my play on Francesca's Forno watermelon salad presentation.

I think watermelon salads can be done well or terribly. A few weeks ago I had a watermelon cube served as an appetizer with a whipped feta. It was disgusting. It was an appetizer that tried to be friends with the savory crowd when it only knew how to play with the sweets. 

I used some of my favorite ingredients, basil and goat cheese for this version. I think the tang of the goat cheese plays nicely with the fruit (instead of trying to compete). Basil adds a nice herbal burst to cut through the sweetness as well. I added a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar to further counter the sweet watermelon. But the real secret to this salad?! Salt and a light sprinkle of cayenne pepper. The salt helps with the sweet savory balance but that cayenne, it's the real star of the dish. I used just enough to leave a little tingle on the lips. It's definitely an unexpected and welcome kick to something you expect to just be sweet and juicy. If you're not a fan of spicy, you can totally leave it out. There's something really fun about watermelon salad with cayenne though… it's sweet heat!

Lots of improv suggestions below. Swap out the ingredients for your favorites… it's a salad after all!

kickin' watermelon salad

watermelon slices
crumbled goat cheese
torn fresh basil leaves
drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar
sprinkle of salt
light sprinkle of cayenne pepper (seriously just a small pinch dusted over the slice)

No measurements here, use as much as you like. Just like making a salad, you can't really go wrong (unless you dump TOO much cayenne pepper or salt). Use a light hand, you can always add more.

improv style:
i think the traditional watermelon salad involves feta cheese, olives, thinly shaved onions, and fresh mint leaves. i like 2 of the above ingredients so i improv'd it to my taste. use your favorite flavors. here's some suggestions:

combine any of the following:
  • semi-hard crumbly cheese - like feta, goat, blue cheese
  • fresh herb of sorts (in this case, fresh is a must) - mint, basil, cilantro, parsley
  • toppings - olives, onions, slivered nuts, sesame seeds, cucumber, tomato, wonton strips
  • dressings - your favorite type of vinegar, a honey dressing, your favorite salad dressing, maybe an asian toasted sesame?! - get creative or go naked!

you can serve it as a pizza slice but you could also just dice the watermelon and serve it up traditionally. if you don't have cayenne but still want to add heat you could try using hot sauce or siracha. just watch how much you put on… a little goes a long way! Also, don't have aged balsamic? just pour some in a pan and reduce it until it becomes a thick syrup. boom, now you've got your own thick syrupy balsamic without the huge price tag! 


  1. I love and enjoy watermelon slices...Refreshingly sweet. This is a unique presentation.

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