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Tomato and Watermelon Salad

Tomato and Watermelon Salad

Nothing spells summer to us like heirloom tomatoes, and this salad recipe tosses them with juicy watermelon and tart goat cheese. Not only is it a delicacy for your taste buds, but it’s stunning in presentation as well.


  • 1 Pound red watermelon, rind removed and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 Pound yellow watermelon, rind removed and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks
  • 4 heirloom tomatoes, halved
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 Teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons small, whole basil leaves
  • 4 Ounces mild goat cheese
  • 1/4 Cup chopped, unsalted cashews

Tomato & Watermelon Salad Recipe

Nothing says summer's coming quite like fresh watermelon and tomatoes. Toss the two together in this lycopene-packed salad, which comes to us straight from David Danielson, Executive Chef for Churchill Downs Racetrack. Just like a festive picnic with the ones you love, Chef David's tomato and watermelon salad is full of good things.

Serves 12

Tomato and watermelon salad

In these, the watermelon days of summer, it’s easy to think nature made this refreshing fruit just to slake our thirst and thrill kids who like to make a mess of their faces.

But its story is a long and curious one. Like the human race, the watermelon originated in Africa many thousands of years ago and has since developed in eccentric ways. There’s nothing quite like it. Whether buying it, eating it straight from the rind (as most of us do) or creating light and refreshing dishes with it, you can’t take it for granted. You’ve got to know it.

Originally domesticated in tropical Africa from a stringy, unpromising, sometimes bitter thing no bigger than a grapefruit, it had developed into the big boy we recognize by about 2000 BC, when it first showed up in Egyptian art.

But in recent centuries it has become the American melon. Sure, it spread throughout Europe and Asia during the Middle Ages, but not until the African slave trade brought it here did it really find an eager welcome. We Americans are the great watermelon fanciers of the world, the ones who’ve developed most of the improved varieties now grown.

Watermelons are an integral part of our summer folklore, and it makes sense that the biggest watermelon-eating season of the year is the week of July 4. There are more than 40 annual watermelon festivals around this country, meaning that there are more than 40 American towns that consider themselves the world capitals of watermelon.

Typically, these festivals feature exuberant contests for seed-spitting and growing the biggest watermelon. Curiously, though, plant breeders are now reversing gear on exactly these virtues.

On one hand, they’re racing to develop smaller melons. The traditional oblong “picnic” size is 17 to 20 pounds, and the familiar Calsweet variety can easily run 30 pounds, but the big push now is for melons under 15 pounds -- called “icebox” watermelons, because they’re small enough to go in the refrigerator without cutting -- and even cantaloupe-sized “lunchbox” or “one-meal” watermelons weighing under 5 pounds.

On the other hand, in 1988 growers introduced seedless varieties, beginning here in California. Of course, they’re not truly seedless -- they just have relatively few, relatively puny seeds. This makes them more difficult to propagate than seeded watermelons, so they’re somewhat more expensive.

But they now rule the California and Arizona watermelon industry, the third largest in the country 90% of our state’s watermelons are seedless. “California’s lifestyle lends itself to convenience foods,” observes Dana Abercrombie of the California-Arizona Watermelon Assn. “Thus, seedless, smaller melons, the most popular size for the past 10 years being a 14- to 16-pound size, about the size of a basketball.”

Still, seedless varieties have to have seeded watermelons inter-planted with them so they’ll pollinate -- a row of Royal Sweet, say, for every few rows of seedless Millionaire (light green with thick, dark stripes) or Laurel (stripes of about equal size). So traditionalists, let not your hearts be troubled -- no matter how many seedless watermelons are grown, seeded watermelons will always be with us.

And that’s a good thing, because the watermelon’s tasty seed has always been one of its attractions. Toasted watermelon seeds are much appreciated in China, and some varieties have been specially bred for seeds (Wanli boasts a minimum of 400 seeds per melon). The original African wild watermelon, known by such names as tsama and egusi-ibara, is still being grown for its seeds, which are ground and used for thickening soups and stews throughout West Africa. Watermelon seed oil is also used for frying there.

A peculiar thing about watermelons is that they are rarely sold by variety. They’re rated on sweetness and crisp texture (neither mealy nor mushy), and little is made of distinctive aroma. “There aren’t the nuances in flavor in watermelon that there are in [other] melons,” says Amy Goldman, author of “Melons for the Passionate Grower.” “The differences are extremely subtle.”

Growers have developed more than 300 watermelon varieties, mostly to make the best of particular local growing conditions. Often a variety is said to be a “type” -- to resemble some old favorite. If you see a picnic-sized watermelon with a light-green rind and thin, dark-green stripes, that’s probably a Calsweet -- or a Calsweet type, adapted to some particular climate. A dark-green rind with rather erratic, broken, lighter stripes suggests a Sangria or, if the melon has a blockier shape, a Fiesta.

Even farmers markets have not featured many watermelon varieties so far. One grower that raises specialty watermelons is Weiser Farms, which sells in 20 Southland farmers markets. Alex Weiser tends to offer his melons from Lucerne Valley and Tehachapi in August and September, when the commercial crop from the Sacramento Valley is winding down.

This year he’ll have Golden Midget, a 3-pound watermelon with reddish flesh and a bright-yellow rind Petite Yellow, an icebox-sized melon with yellow flesh Mickylee, a dense-fleshed icebox variety he has been selling for some years Blacktail Mountain, which Goldman characterizes in her book as “the gold standard by which my daughter and I judge all other watermelons” and the striking Moon and Stars, which has a dramatic pattern of starlike yellow spots on its dark-green skin.

Why are watermelons sometimes disappointing?

“What happens, usually,” says Weiser, “they are picked overripe. Anything that is high in sugar breaks down faster. If you leave it on the vine too long, some of these melons are just apt to get mealy.”

Shelf time can cause loss of crispness too, he says. “Watermelons are at their prime for two weeks after you pick them. Past that stage, they start to get a little mealy. That even happens to a lot of the commercial ones. They sit out there until they sell. That’s why it’s hit or miss sometimes.” He says smaller operations that sell in farmers markets can keep better track of ripeness.

Texture aside, a watermelon’s flavor will suffer if it’s stored very long above 60 degrees. On the other hand, if it’s stored below 50 degrees too long, its flesh will lose color. And just a couple of days below 41 degrees is enough to make pits appear in the skin, and then bacteria will invade the watermelon and spoil the flavor. The term “icebox watermelon” doesn’t mean you should keep your melon there very long.

“People are worried about buying a bad watermelon,” says Abercrombie of the watermelon association. “After all, buying a watermelon is not like buying a grape. But you can ask to try a slice in the store. All the watermelons in the display should be the same.

“And if you take a watermelon home and find it’s not what you want, take it back. Stores have no problem with that.”

Chefs have a problem with the fruit, though. Watermelon, the anarchist of produce, just resists traditional preparation methods.

Before Bastide, the Melrose-area French restaurant, opened late last year, chef Alain Giraud planned to feature a watermelon soup, but he had to give up. He found the melon’s flavor refreshing but flat. “The only way to make more flavor is to reduce it, or caramelize it,” he says, “and then you would lose the original flavor. You have to add so many other things to make a flavor.”

So cooks tend to use watermelon in raw form, in salads and relishes, soups and beverages and sorbets. In fact, though, it is possible to cook watermelon. It’s often made into jam in China, and Mennonites in Russia traditionally used watermelon syrup as a sweetener.

However, two strange things happen when you cook watermelon, and both are likely to make you think you’ve made a terrible mistake. First, you’ll notice a flavor reminiscent of cooking pumpkin. “That’s due to breakdown products from fatty acids,” says food science writer Harold McGee. “They’re probably part of the plant’s defensive system. Microbes don’t like free fatty acids.” As the watermelon cooks down, this flavor becomes less prominent.

More interestingly, the aroma of stewed tomato also arises. This turns out to be caused by lycopene, which has twice as much antioxidant power as its close relative beta carotene. This might explain why chefs make things like watermelon-tomato salad. And maybe even why we were mysteriously impelled to turn watermelon puree into ketchup. You ought to try it.

“It’s the lycopene in tomato and watermelon, and some molecules that are on their way to making lycopene, that make that aroma,” says McGee. “Lycopene itself is not aromatic, but it’s a big molecule and under heat it can break up into aromatic fragments.

“At the same time, cooking destroys the cell walls of the plant tissue, making the lycopene more available to our digestions. So the breakdown of some of the lycopene actually signals that more nutrition is available. The aroma and the nutritional availability of lycopene are sides of the same coin.”

McGee points out one other thing about lycopene, whether you’re eating your watermelon raw or not: “Lycopene is insoluble in water, so plants tend to store it in crystals. That’s why you always want at least a little bit of oil or fat with the lycopene to dissolve it. If it stays crystallized, your digestive system might only be able to peel off the outer few molecules of the lycopene crystals.”

Eat something with a little fat in it along with watermelon at your Fourth of July barbecue? Hey, what are the chances of that? And you can just tell everybody it’s a lycopene thing.

Chef’s Signature Recipes

The JUSTIN Rosé features hints of bing cherry, strawberry, and has a bright acidity and more depth of flavor than most rosés. The fruit flavors found in the JUSTIN Rosé blend nicely with the refreshing watermelon and sweet summer tomatoes. The arugula gives a nice spice and herbal element that gives contrast to the watermelon. The creamy feta and salty crunch of the pistachio round out the dish to balance the flavors and contrast to the sweetness of the watermelon and tomatoes. This dish is extremely effortless and a great crowd pleaser.

1 cup Diced watermelon
1 cup Cherry tomatoes (cut in half or quarters based on size)
3 tablespoons Crumbled feta
1/2 cup Arugula
2 cups Sumac Spiced Wonderful Pistachios (recipe below)
1 tablespoon Fresh basil chiffonade (thinly sliced)
1 tablespoon Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Aged balsamic
To taste Sea salt
To taste Freshly cracked pepper

Sumac Spiced Wonderful Pistachios:
2 cups Wonderful Pistachios
1 ea Egg White
1 tablespoon Fleur de sel or sea salt
1 tablespoon Sumac (or other spices)
Note: If you do not have aged balsamic, use reduced balsamic or balsamic glaze (which can be found in most grocery stores). If you do not have sumac, plain Wonderful pistachios with a hint of lemon will be a good substitute

Tomato and Watermelon Salad

A bright, refreshing tomato and watermelon salad is the perfect side dish for a hot summer day.

What really makes this recipe shine is the crumbled feta cheese and the slivered almonds.

The almonds add a much needed crunch and the creaminess of the feta perfectly offsets the tartness of the red wine vinegar.

In addition to the almonds, I call for a flaky salt in this recipe for added crunch.

I keep Maldon Salt on hand in my kitchen. It goes great on other things like a pan-seared steak or homemade soft pretzels. If you don&rsquot have Maldon Salt and don&rsquot want to buy it for this recipe, you can substitute regular coarse kosher salt. Just cut the quantity back to 1/2 a teaspoon.

Whatever you do, don&rsquot skip the salt altogether unless you&rsquore on a low sodium diet. A little kosher salt brings out an enormous amount of flavor in both watermelon and tomatoes.

This Watermelon Tomato Caprese Salad is My Summer Crush

Ever since I started making this twist on a watermelon caprese salad at the beginning of summer, I’ve been on a Harry Styles-level obsession with making sure I always have the ingredients for it in my kitchen. I just wanna taste it, I just wanna taste it, watermelon salad high… Either you’re frantically clicking off the page right now or humming along with me (I know some of you get me.) (And just remember, the only thing worse than me butchering these lyrics would be actually having to hear me sing them. You’re welcome, Adam.)

I feel that some of y’all might not be happy about the fact that I’m calling this a “caprese” since it’s a prettttty big stretch from the original, but I am all about a loose riff these days. Plus, if you read the actual definition of a caprese, you’ll see that it’s really more of a formula that doesn’t necessitate any one exact ingredient: veggie/fruit + cheese + herbs. And yes if you actually clicked on that link, you noticed that I’m citing my own website, lol. If it’s on the internet, it’s got to be true!

So far, this post = my brain on not enough sleep (my body clock is set to some weird 4:57am wake-up this week), so for those of you who actually want to hear about this salad, let’s dive in.

Refreshing, sweet, cold, and crunchy, this watermelon caprese salad is truly what summer dreams are made of.

And if you, like me, are always looking for something to do with the massive amounts of watermelon that you’re left with when you cut one up, this is your answer. When combining ingredients, I try to chop up my tomato, melon, and cucumber to roughly the same size so that you end up with this highly snackable chopped salad that is perfect for lunch, appetizer, or a side with grilled salmon or chicken. The addition of chopped fresh mozzarella is what makes it creamy and addictive, and basil + a squeeze of lime + olive oil (and lots of flaky sea salt) make up the simplest dressing that is really all this salad needs. It’s dreamy.

Since summer is all about making it work with what you’ve got (and we’re all limiting our grocery runs these days) I’ve tried a few adaptations to this recipe with great results. Swap cantaloupe for watermelon, try feta instead of mozzarella, and of course, the basil can be subbed with mint or cilantro — I usually use a mix of whatever fresh herbs I have on hand. Scroll on for the recipe, along with the video of me making this salad start to finish…

If you try this recipe, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment, rate it, and tag me on Instagram so I can see it!

Watermelon Tomato Caprese Salad

This watermelon caprese salad is crunchy, sweet, creamy, and refreshing. Meet my new favorite summer starter!

Recipe Summary

  • 5 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 3 large limes)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger (from 1 [4-inch] piece)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 6 cups 1-inch watermelon cubes (from 1 [7-lb.] seedless watermelon)
  • 3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 medium shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup roughly torn fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup roughly torn fresh mint leaves
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (1 cup)

Whisk together lime juice, honey, fresh mint, ginger, dried mint, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt in a small bowl. Drizzle in oil, whisking, until blended. Place watermelon and tomatoes in a large ziplock plastic bag. Pour in lime dressing, squeeze air out of bag, and seal. Chill 30 minutes.

Transfer watermelon and tomatoes to a large bowl, reserving marinade in bag. Toss watermelon mixture with shallots, 1/4 cup of the reserved marinade, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Gently toss in basil and mint. Transfer to a large platter, and sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese. Serve remaining marinade on the side as a dressing.

Tomato Watermelon Salad

A perfect end-of-summer dish, this recipe makes the most of those glorious weeks when tomatoes and watermelon are both in season. Chef Bill Smith cautions against making this quick and refreshing salad ahead of time&mdashthe dish is best when eaten the same day it&rsquos made and tastes even better when served very cold. To add a salty counterpoint, top with a handful of oil-cured black olives.


  • 5 cups cubed and seeded ripe watermelon
  • 5 ripe medium summer tomatoes (about 1½ pounds), cut into wedges
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 small red onion, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 3/4 cup oil-cured black olives, pitted (optional)


Gently combine the watermelon, tomatoes, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Add the onion, vinegar, and oil and gently stir to combine. Refrigerate until very cold and top with the olives, if using, before serving.

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How to pick the right watermelon

Summer and fresh juicy watermelon go hand and hand.

Watermelon is usually available from early May to September but they are at their peak from mid-to late June.

I love to use watermelon in many of my recipes as it adds a sweet touch, and though water accounts for over 90% of it's weight, it’s rich in potassium, and Vitamins A & C.

Here are some watermelon tips:

Your watermelon should feel heavy for its size. Compare it to similar melons.

Rind shouldn't have any soft spots, gashes and should be dull and barely yield to pressure.

A good melon has a symmetrical shape. It shouldn’t matter if it’s round or oval.

Look on the bottom of the melon and you’ll find a discolored spot where the melon rested on the ground when it was growing.

If this spot is light green, the melon is not yet ripe. If the spot is a yellowish-white color, the melon is probably ripe.

You can also test for ripeness by scratching the surface of a watermelon with your fingernail. A greenish-white color beneath the outermost layer of the rind indicates a ripe watermelon.

If you are watermelon thumper-a ripe melon will sound as if the fruit is hollow. You don’t want to hear a thud or a tone that is high in pitch.