This Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad recipe is a jewel in my summer salad collection as it's so fresh, vibrant and full of fabulous flavor! I've had guests ask if they could lick their plates clean!
Although we have several delicious watermelon salad recipes in the Café archives, I couldn't resist coming up with a new rendition for the new summer season. In fact, I might just make this a tradition... a new watermelon salad every summer, as there are so many flavors and textures that combine well with watermelon. For this one, we're traveling to the Far East and borrowing some of the flavors of Thailand. I've served this Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad to lots of guests as the recipe has been tested and tweaked. EVERYONE has loved it and one set of guests asked if they could "lick the plates clean"!
The inspiration for this salad came from another recipe I"ve been working on, a delicious grilled Asian steak. I wanted a salad to serve as a first course and this Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad is what evolved. The cast of characters, in addition to watermelon, includes crisp cucumbers, sweet white onion and velvety mango. A delicious Thai-inspired dressing, chopped fresh herbs, thinly sliced scallions and a scatter of sesame peanuts finish things off.
The problem with Watermelon Salads
I made this salad several times before I figured out the problem with Watermelon Salads. A clue is in the name itself, watermelon. If you've ever cut open a watermelon, you know that there's a ton of juice that flows out almost immediately. And when you dice it up and combine it with other ingredients in a salad, even more watery liquid pours out. While there's nothing wrong with a juicy watermelon, all that water tends to drown out the other flavors, including the watermelon itself.
My super flavorful dressing that tasted fantastic when I tried a little sample from the jar, lost most of its oomph when it was drizzled on the salad. As I mentioned above, this happened a few tunes and it was disappointing but it prompted me to ponder a solution. I recalled that many traditional watermelon salads are dressed with a balsamic reduction. The super-concentrated balsamic vinegar doesn't lose its flavor when combined with the juicy watermelon salad. An aha moment!
Instead of a jar, the next time I made the dressing, I combined all the ingredients in a small saucepan and simmered the mixture until reduced by about half. It didn't take long, 5-8 minutes, and the difference was amazing. The salad was now bright and flavorful and bursting with lots of wonderful Thai flavor!
More flavor bombs, varieties of texture and beautiful eye appeal!
Yes, watermelon salads can be bland, just because of the nature of the star ingredient. But not this Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad! Here are some of the components that, combined together, have made guests want to "lick the plate clean".
- After figuring out that concentrating the dressing made the salad much tastier, I decided to add some of the extra watermelon juice to the dressing before simmering. So the first step in preparing this salad is to dice up the watermelon and transfer it to a strainer set over a bowl. While I prep the other ingredients, I allow the watermelon to drain and add that juice to the pan with the dressing resulting in an even more delicious flavor, once the dressing is simmered and reduced!
- Diced cucumbers, while mild in flavor are super crunchy and add pretty green and white color.
- Golden and sweet chopped mangoes are so pretty and add bits of velvety texture.
- White onions are sweeter than their yellow siblings and not as spicy as their red counterparts. Chopped white onions add a nice crunch and a pretty contrast in color to the watermelon, cukes and mangoes
- LOTS of fresh herbs! I use cilantro, basil and mint but, for those with cilantro-aversion, just basil and mint are also delicious. A generous portion of fine chopped fresh herbs add a fabulous explosion of flavor.
- Peanuts. I purchased salted, roasted peanuts for this Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad, hoping for a nice salty crunch. Kind of like the dressing, I found that the peanuts got lost in the mix. So I came up with an easy, super tasty compromise. I combine a splash of sesame oil, a spoonful of sugar and an extra pinch of salt in a small sauté pan. The sugar and salt began to dissolve after a minute over the heat and then I threw in the peanuts. It didn't take long for them to deepen in color and get crunchy and super delish! When I added the peanuts to the salad they were no longer wishy-washy but added a fabulous sweet-salty crunch!
- Warning*** I would be remiss to omit this precaution: these peanuts are SO delicious, you might want to hide them till it's time to sprinkle them over the salad. Otherwise, if you have nut-lovers on the loose (like I do), there may be a pitifully small amount left when it's time for dinner.
Lots of chopping
If you think there's a lot of chopping with this Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad, you're right! But I've got a way to simplify that. I use one of my very favorite kitchen tools, my Vidalia Chop Wizard to chop the cucumbers, onion and even the mango. The watermelon and herbs, I do chop by hand but having the other ingredients chopped in minutes with my little kitchen workhorse saves me lots of time!
Give this Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad recipe a try! I think you'll be hooked with the first fabulous taste. It's a perfect salad to take to picnics, potlucks and parties. If someone asked if they can "lick the plate clean", you can tell them that it's not the first time you've heard that request.
Café Tips for making this Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad
- You want a medium seedless watermelon for this recipe. If you purchase a larger watermelon, just measure out 12 cups of diced fruit.
- This recipe is easily halved for serving less people. If you're taking it to a picnic or potluck you might want to double it as it's a real crowd pleaser!
- This recipe calls for chopped peanuts. What's the best way to chop peanuts? Don't try to do it with a knife on a cutting board. Peanuts will be flying everywhere. I like to put the peanuts in a zippered bag and release most of the air before sealing. Then I use a meat mallet to coarsely chop the peanuts in no time flat. If you don't have a meat mallet, the back of a large table spoon also works.
- One of the ingredients in the dressing is fish sauce. If you've never used fish sauce, you might be hesitant and, if you take a whiff, you might be beyond hesitant. Fish sauce is a staple ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine that adds fabulous umami flavor. This Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad only calls for a teaspoon of fish sauce and I highly recommend including it. Fish sauce can be purchased at most grocery stores in the Asian section of the international aisle. Once fish sauce is opened, it has a long shelf life in the refrigerator, at least a year. I really like Red Boat Fish Sauce. It's highly recommended by chefs world wide as well as America's Test Kitchen.
- This salad is best served right after all the ingredients are combined. But it's easy to prep ahead.
- You can make the dressing several days in advance. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container or glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- The peanuts can be also prepared several days in advance. Hide them in an airtight container so no one decides to enjoy them as a delicious snack.
- The watermelon, cucumbers and white onion can all be diced earlier in the day. Just store them separately in ziplock bags or airtight containers until combining everything together before serving.
- The green onion can be thinly sliced and, again, stored in the fridge early in the day.
- The herbs are best chopped just before combining them in the salad with the other ingredients.
- I like to use the mini cucumbers for this Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad but you could also use a large English cucumber (also known as European, hothouse and seedless cucumbers).
- My type favorite mangoes to use for this salad are Champagne Mangoes, also known as Ataulfo mangoes. They have a velvety smooth flesh, a beautiful golden color and a smaller seed than the typical mangoes you find at your local grocery.
- The sweet-salty sesame peanuts are an amazing finishing touch for this Thai Chopped Watermelon Salad and, as mentioned above, you can definitely make them a day or two ahead. If you're in a huge hurry, however, purchased salted, roasted peanuts will work but it's not quite the same (you'll agree, once you try them).
- If you've followed The Café for a while, you probably know that I really love Ginger Paste. It's a convenience item that's available a lots of larger grocery stores in the produce aisle and saves lots of time. It's basically finely grated fresh ginger in a tube. I always keep a tube of this in my fridge and/or freezer. This is not a sponsored post, I just really like this stuff.
- One last item you may not be familiar with - chili garlic sauce. This is a condiment that I love to keep on hand. It adds a bit of Asian zip to this Thai dressing. Be careful though as it definitely has some heat. I recommend starting with ½ teaspoon and adding more, to taste. You can find chili garlic sauce at any larger grocery store in the Asian section.
Thought for the day:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace,
that we may receive mercy
and find grace to help in time of need.
What we're listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoy this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear your results, adaptations and ideas for variations.
- 12 cups seedless watermelon diced small (about ½ inch)
- 4 cups diced cucumber (about ½-inch dice) 6 medium-size mini cukes
- 1 large white onion diced small (about a ¼ inch)
- 3 medium size mangoes peeled and diced small (about a ¼ inch)
- ¼ cup fresh mint leaves, packed finely chopped
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, packed finely chopped
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves, packed finely chopped
- 1 bunch scallions very thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- ½ teaspoon chili garlic sauce more to taste
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup crushed salted peanuts
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 ½ teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Prep all of the ingredients (except the fresh herbs) as directed, starting with the watermelon. Place the diced watermelon in a strainer set over a large bowl and allow it to drain while prepping the other ingredients.
If not serving the salad right away, store all ingredients separately in airtight containers or ziplock bags.
Combine all dressing ingredients in a small saucepan. Add the strained juice from the watermelon.
Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until reduced by about one half, 5-8 minutes. Taste (the flavor will be strong but that's what you want as it will be diluted a bit in the salad) and add more chili garlic sauce for more heat, if desired. Set aside to cool.
Combine the sesame oil, sugar and salt in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Stir continuously for one minute then add the peanuts, lower the heat a bit and stir to coat the peanuts with the sesame oil mixture.
Continue cooking for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently until the peanuts deepen in color and are very fragrant. If peanuts seem to darken in color too fast, lower the heat a little more. Set aside to cool.
Combine watermelon, cucumber, white onions and mango in a large serving bowl. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and sprinkle it with the chopped herbs and sliced scallions. Stir gently to combine all ingredients. Scatter half of the sesame peanuts over the top and serve the rest in a small bowl at the table. Serve, enjoy and don’t expect leftovers!
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips to ensure success.
If you prefer to use Metric measurements there is a button in each of our recipes, right above the word “Instructions”. Just click that button to toggle to grams, milliliters, etc. If you ever come across one of our recipes that doesn’t have the Metric conversion (some of the older recipes may not), feel free to leave a comment and I will add it.