Watermelon Salad with Lime and Peanuts

August 10, 2018

 

 

I love my Daddy-o with all my heart but I must say, when it comes to culinary proclivities, he can be a bit of an…odd duck. Like, really odd.

Things that man deems crave-worthy: Mama’s (in)famous orange potato salad, bologna roll-ups, braunsweiger on saltines, peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, a tall morning glass of V-8 mixed with sauerkraut juice. That last little item horrified me as a child and still makes my skin crawl, if I’m honest. Sorry, Daddy–I don’t care how many health benefits that wicked brew contains. A glass of that stuff is never passing my lips. More for you, eh?

I also grew up watching that brown-eyed rascal do strange things to fruit. Mama would place a lovely plate of cantaloupe or honeydew melon in front of him and he’d reach across the table for the salt and pepper shakers. He’d shower both over his plate before deeming it good to eat. Ditto with watermelon.

I’d wrinkle my nose in distaste and he’d chuckle. “Don’t knock it till you try it, kiddo.”

“Why do you do that?” I asked him once.

“Well, it’s something my parents always did, so I just grew up eating it that way,” he explained. “Plus, the salt somehow makes the melon taste sweeter.”

“I don’t understand how that could be right,” I said. “Sugar makes things sweet, not salt.”

“I’m not saying I can explain it,” he said. “It just is.”

Hmph.

Taking the bait, I reached for the salt shaker and put the teeniest bit over a slice of watermelon. I popped it into my mouth and my eyes widened in surprise. That little hit of salt actually did make the melon taste better. Not sweeter, exactly, but more melon-y…if that’s a word. It seemed juicier and more refreshing.

I won’t be taking him up on the bologna roll-ups (or the freakshow that is braunsweiger) anytime soon, but the salt on the melon? Count me in.

Which is why I opened the most recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine and had to smile at the following headline: Your Fruit Salad Needs Salt.

If Bon Appetit says it’s a good idea to combine fruit and salt, it must be true.

Not only do they advocate for salt (and sometimes pepper), they make a strong case for adding a little fat to the party. “Drizzling olive oil over savory fruits like tomatoes is second nature,” the article reads. “But put it on watermelon and people start to think you’ve lost your mind. Consider this: Olives and watermelons are both fruits, and just as vegetable-driven salads need fat to balance salt and acid, fruit salads crave the mouth-coating richness of oil to complement sweetness and acidity.”

Anyone who has ever eaten the swoon-worthy combination of watermelon, feta cheese, and basil/mint (drizzled with olive oil) can attest to this phenomenon. It’s strange magic, but I don’t question it. I just gobble it down with a smile.

That same article in Bon Appetit offered up several fruit-salt-fat recipes that seemed intriguing. Some seemed downright weird, which I always find irresistible. Present me with an oddball-sounding recipe and my fingers start to twitch. I’m dying to try it.

This particular recipe caught my fancy because it seemed fairly Vietnamese in flavor profile, and I love all things about the cuisine of Vietnam. I find the balance of sweet/salty/sour/fresh addictive.

Do not be afraid of the fish sauce in this recipe! It mainly adds that kick of salty flavor that complements the watermelon so well–you won’t get a fishy flavor at all. I really loved the crunch and the pop of the crushed peanuts, too. I think this salad is weird genius. If you’ve got a thirst for adventure running through your veins, give this recipe a try. I served it to some unsuspecting victims one late summer day, and it’s perfect antidote to hot weather.

Sometimes weird is a good thing.

 

 

 

Watermelon Salad with Lime and Peanuts

serves 4

slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

 

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar or palm sugar

2 sprigs + 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

1/2 of a 6-pound baby seedless watermelon, rind removed and cut into chunks (about 6 cups)

1/4 cup dry roasted, salted peanuts or roasted chile-flavored peanuts

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small Fresno or jalapeno chile, seeded and thinly sliced

flaky sea salt

 

Stir lime juice, fish sauce sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Lightly crush 2 basil springs and add to the dressing. Add watermelon and toss gently.

Transfer watermelon to a platter, removing basil sprigs. Drizzle olive oil over, sprinkle with peanuts, 1/4 cup basil, sliced chiles and flaky sea salt.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie August 10, 2018 at 7:56 am

I like the sound of this one! Watermelon works so well in savory dishes. I’ve grilled it before with feta and mint and loved it. Hope your summer is going well. Miss you!
Xoxoxo

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Dana Talusani August 10, 2018 at 7:02 pm

I miss you so much! :(

I have to admit, I ate almost all of this salad myself. I thought it was crazy-ass good, especially if you have a really good watermelon, which this year has been as rare as seeing the Yeti. WTF is with the mediocre watermelons this year? I have bought one every week (so who is the dummy, here?) and only had three good ones. HERESY! I holler.

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