Watermelon Tomato Salad with Cumin and Fennel

August 27, 2013

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: 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 Rajistan. 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.
Amanda Hesser

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
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup sliced mint
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 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
In This Recipe


  1. Puree 2 cups of the watermelon in a blender and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the remaining watermelon and tomato and toss with the sugar, a large pinch of salt, the mint, and lime juice.
  2. Set a large saute pan over medium heat and add enough oil to thinly coat the base of the pan. When the oil is hot, sprinkle in the cumin, fennel, and ginger, and toast for 30 seconds. Add the turmeric and chile powder, then 1/2 cup watermelon juice, and the lemon juice. Bring to a simmer. Add salt or sugar as desired, and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Pour the sauce over the watermelon and tomatoes and gently fold together. Divide among 6 shallow bowls, and serve.

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Reviews (40) Questions (2)

40 Reviews

MrsBeeton July 30, 2018
This was the hit of a summer dinner party I had. Strangely wonderful. People almost didn't know it was watermelon. There was a little left over, and I can vouch for its excellence as a cold leftover. I ate it for lunch, and it was amazing.
Aislinn G. June 1, 2016
Is the chile powder in this the kind you get in grocery stores in the states? The brown stuff for Chili? Or do you need to get it from the Indian food mart?
Author Comment
Amanda H. June 1, 2016
Yes, chile powder from the grocery store is fine.
Cinnamin September 3, 2015
Oh I love adding a little tarka to a salad- even if it's just a few mustard seeds over some semi-ripe mangoes. This looks like a great texture play too!
Anne August 31, 2015
I added the sauce after it had cooled, as didn't want the watermelon to go mushy. Also upped the fennel seeds from 1/2 tsp to 1. Dry-roasting the seeds in the pan before adding oil and ginger gives a lovely toasted flavour.
Cinnamin September 3, 2015
Dry-roasting spices and seeds just makes them better! :D
RSVPPDQ36 August 25, 2015
This was good, but didn't blow my skirt up. I followed the recipe and method exactly. I think I prefer the feta olive watermelon salad, but next time I'm going to incorporate this dressing method and ingredients.<br />
Chef B. August 24, 2015
I love watermelon so this recipe was a no brainer for me. Went to Asian market to purchase my watermelon and used ingredients on hand to make sauce. Used yellow heirlooms for color contrast. Sauce was delish. Overall experience ... delightful, however, lots of liquid in salad.
Nancy C. August 24, 2015
As I read this recipe, the thought occurred to me that it might be interesting to use real fennel in it, not just the seeds. Thin-shaved fennel slices, small enough that the flavor wouldn't be overwhelming, but enough to provide a satisfying crunch and some color contrast, might be spectacular. Has anyone tried this? Or, for those who don't like the flavor of fennel, some celery and use the fennel seeds?
Chef B. August 24, 2015
I'm in agreement Nancy. Shaved fennel...fantastic!
Sue T. May 27, 2017
Roasted fennel. The bomb.<br />
Susan August 24, 2015
What could you add in place of the fennel? Family member is not a fan of anything with any hint of licorice flavor....thanks
Author Comment
Amanda H. August 24, 2015
I might add a pinch of cinnamon for a little fragrance.
Author Comment
Amanda H. August 24, 2015
Or lemon zest.
[email protected] August 24, 2015
[email protected] August 24, 2015
What protein would you serve with this salad?
Author Comment
Amanda H. August 24, 2015
You can go in lots of directions -- grilled shrimp, fried chicken, grilled flank steak.
Lisa W. August 4, 2015
Dying to try this.<br />
Panfusine August 3, 2015
Can't believe I missed seeing this recipe.. making it first thing tomorrow as soon as I can pick up some Watermelon.<br />
LE B. April 30, 2015
p.s. i do think this should be entered in the No-Lettuce Salad contest.
Author Comment
Amanda H. April 30, 2015
LE B. April 30, 2015
I am a passionate 'eat it plain and COLD' watermelon gobbler, but you have me hooked here, amanda! thx so much! Since the 'heated dressing' element is so unusual, would you tell us what inspired you for it, rather than just combining all the elements sans sauce?
Author Comment
Amanda H. April 30, 2015
Hi there -- this recipe comes from a NY chef, Surbhi Sahni. It's her technique and she said this was something she ate growing up in India.
Jono &. September 13, 2014
Sorry, maybe I did something wrong, but this was bloody awful. The flavours did not blend. Bluch.
Author Comment
Amanda H. September 13, 2014
I'm sorry it didn't live up to your expectations -- others have had success with it, but maybe the flavors aren't your cup of tea. Apologies for the bad experience!
monica August 19, 2014
Thanks for the quick response, can't wait to make this!!
monica August 19, 2014
just a quick question, what if you don't have cumin seeds, will ground work as well????
Author Comment
Amanda H. August 19, 2014
Yes, sure -- use the same amount ground.
Orionmar July 19, 2014
This was amazing. It overshadowed the rest of my meal, and I'll serve this to my CIA chef-trained friends without the least bit of trepidation.
Author Comment
Amanda H. July 20, 2014
So glad to hear it!
LLoquet June 12, 2014
Can't wait to try this! Do you chill the sauce before pouring over the salad?
Author Comment
Amanda H. June 12, 2014
You pour it over hot -- I know it sounds strange but it works!
LLoquet June 12, 2014
Thanks Amanda! Do you serve it right away or chill it. Can I make it ahead?
Author Comment
Amanda H. June 13, 2014
I usually serve it right away but you can let it sit for about an hour. I haven't chilled it before but I think it's worth trying!
lacerise September 23, 2013
I've never been a watermelon fan (yes, everyone thinks I'm loco), but decided to try this recipe because all the other ingredients were so appealing and I knew they would cut the sweetness of the watermelon. It works beautifully and I'm now a convert of sorts.