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Watermelon Tomato Salad with Cumin and Fennel

August 28, 2013

In Cooking from Every Angle, we hear from our fearless leaders: Food52 co-founders Amanda & Merrill.

Today: Amanda shows us a new take on watermelon tomato salad.

Watermelon Tomato Salad

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The first time I tasted watermelon tomato salad was in the late 90s at a steak house on the Upper East Side, not a place you expect to meet much innovation. The salad was a pile of yellow and red heirloom tomatoes with watermelon chunks and a bracing vinaigrette. Of course two outliers -- the vegetable that’s technically a fruit, and the fruit that chefs consider barely a fruit -- would become fast friends. Together they're a luscious, addictive duo.

The salad, which was new and enlightening then, has become idiomatic in summer, the chatty cousin to more buttoned-up caprese. Its variations have also become familiar: there’s the feta and mint number, the sweet vinegar iteration, and the goat cheese variation. Recently, though, I came across one that was utterly divergent from any I’d had before. Watermelon tomato salad, there’s room for invention, you’re not out of the game yet. All you needed was a little cumin, fennel, and chile to spice you up!

Watermelon Tomato Salad ingredients Season the watermelon and tomatoes with lime and salt

The cumin and fennel sauce. Add some mint, pour over the sauce, and toss gently.

I had this revelatory spiced watermelon tomato salad at a dinner hosted by Kitchensurfing, a marketplace for chefs that gives people access to great restaurant cooks and chefs for private events. One of their chefs, Surbhi Sahni, cooked a stunning Indian dinner that evening, and she served the salad as an intense, refreshing first course.

Surbhi, who owns the bakery Bittersweet NYC, and does gigs with Kitchensurfing on the side, first had the salad in Rajasthan. There, she said, a watermelon-only version is a traditional dish and is eaten with plain roti and a variety of other yogurt, lentil, vegetable, and rice dishes. The watermelon is seasoned with citrus and salt, and cooked in a hot curry sauce.

In Brooklyn, Surbhi adds tomatoes, and makes a curry sauce separately, with cumin, fennel, chile powder, watermelon juice, and citrus, then mixes the sauce with the two fruits, and serves it as its own course. No one will snicker if you show up with it at a potluck. You may also consider it for your work lunch. And I'd definitely show it off at a dinner party. And now that I have permission to add spices to my watermelon salads, I may even go rogue and try curry leaves and mustard seeds.

Watermelon Tomato Salad, ready to eat!

Watermelon Tomato Salad with Cumin and Fennel

Serves 6

6 cups cubed (1/2-inch cubes) watermelon
2 heirloom or beefsteak tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup sliced mint
Juice of 1/2 lime
Vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon chile powder
Juice of 1 lemon

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


Photos by James Ransom

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.


Kitchen B. August 28, 2013
Superb. Tomatoes are sooooo in season here and we've all fallen in love (by we, I mean the kids....) with watermelon.

This is a variation on my baked watermelon version - a wedge, lined with mint leaves, topped with crumbled feta and finished with Lior's Ararat No 35. Heaven.

This will be heaven's companion. Me thinks
Amanda H. August 28, 2013
Thanks Kitchen Butterfly -- hope you like it.