All About the Veg! is a bi-weekly recipe column in which Best of Vegan contributor Seiran Sinjari breaks down one amazing plant at a time. In today’s column, she talks about watermelon, a fruit synonymous with summer, as well as some tips on how to pick a perfect one. Her recipe for Vegan Watermelon Salad is not only a sophisticated, grownup version of her favorite easy summer meal but a refreshing seasonal treat for everyone to enjoy.
It’s summer here in the northern hemisphere and we don’t want to cook on the stove or in the oven (or even being stuck in the kitchen) for too long. Yep, that means salad! A refreshing and cooling salad but still filling, savory, sweet, and satisfying. And the star of this summer salad is of course watermelon!
During the summer months, I make sure to stock my fridge with watermelons so I always have some delicious, cooling, and hydrating snacks ready on hand. Watermelon with ‘penîrê spî’ (white cheese in Kurdish) and bread was my favorite easy summer meal/snack growing up. Very simple and very delicious. And that’s how we traditionally have watermelon and cheese in the Middle East, eaten together separately, not mixed together, and not in salads. You have some cheese, maybe wrapped with some bread, and then chase that cheese and bread bite with a couple of bites of sweet juicy watermelon. So the ever-so-popular watermelon salad is actually a modern invention (that I absolutely love!). I also love incorporating some of the old ways with the new so I’m putting back another piece of ‘old’ by serving my salad with some rustic grilled bread, which goes better with this salad than traditional pita or flatbread that we used to have with watermelon and cheese.
Why is this combination so good and why has it become such a huge food trend? Simply because the combination of sweet and savory is super delicious and a little bit of savory food or salt will actually also bring out the sweetness of the watermelon even more.
A little bit of savory food or salt will actually also bring out the sweetness of the watermelon even more
Before we jump to my vegan watermelon salad recipe I also want to give you some tips on how to pick a good watermelon. Yes, you will see me knocking on them at the markets to hear if they’re perfectly ripe, just like my dad taught me many many years ago. We want them perfectly ripe, not too ripe and grainy, and not unripe and bland.
Here are some tips:
- Lift up the melon and knock on it repeatedly 2-3 times with the knuckle of your index finger. Your knuckle should bounce back, the rind should feel firm, and listen carefully to the sound. The melon should give a hollow, clear ringing sound. If the sound is dull and heavy the watermelon is overripe and likely grainy textured. If the sound is too clear and ringing, the watermelon might be underripe but this is rarely the case.
- The melon should feel heavy when you lift it.
- The surface of the melon should be smooth but not very shiny.
- A yellowish patch on one side of the melon means it was left to ripen for a while before being picked, this is a good sign it’s ripe and sweet.’
If you’re new to this way of picking your watermelon, you simply have to get out there and try this a number of times until you get it right and also understand what stage of ripeness you prefer. Sometimes none of the melons at the market will look or sound perfect and personally, I prefer a slightly unripe melon over an overripe mushy one.
- ½ medium-sized watermelon, cut into bite-sized cubes (rind removed)
- 2 Lebanese cucumbers or other small cucumbers, sliced in rounds
- 100 g pitted kalamata olives
- 1 handful of fresh basil leaves
- 1 handful of fresh mint leaves
- 60 g blanched almonds
- 1 tbsp oil for frying almonds
- 1 pinch of flaky sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
For Sumac Onions:
- 1 medium-sized red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp ground sumac
- flaky sea salt to taste
- A bowl of ice water
For Feta Dip:
- 150 g vegan feta style cheese, crumbled
- 200 g vegan Greek or Turkish style yogurt
- Salt to taste (if needed)
- 1 ½ tsp tamarind paste
- 1 small preserved lemon (rind only), finely chopped or sliced (you can also use the zest of one fresh lemon instead)
- ½ small lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp agave syrup
- 2 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper to taste
Serve with: rustic grilled sourdough bread
- To prepare Sumac Onions, place onions in the bowl of ice water and let soak for 20-30 minutes before draining well. The soaking will take the edge off the strong onion flavor and balance it. Add sumac and salt and mix well until all onions are coated with the sumac.
- To prepare dressing, place all ingredients (you can set some of the preserved lemon rind to the side to garnish with later) in a small bowl and whisk together. Set to the side while you prepare other ingredients.
- To prepare feta dip, mix together all ingredients well in a small bowl.
- Place oil in a pan over medium heat, add blanched almonds, and fry while stirring frequently until almonds become golden brown, then remove from pan immediately. Once they start to get some color, be careful as they easily burn. Let excess oil drip off on some paper towels, then sprinkle them with some flaky sea salt.
- Plate watermelon and cucumbers on a large serving plate, top with big dollops of the feta dip, olives, fried almonds, sumac onions, mint leaves, basil leaves, freshly ground black pepper, preserved lemon rind (if using), and finish by drizzling the dressing on top.
- Serve with some rustic grilled sourdough bread.
Find more of Seiran’s recipes at @legallyplantbased.
Recipe, text, and photography by Seiran Sinjari.
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