My mother doesn’t always like to mix sweet and savory. While we are alike in many ways, I am the opposite in this regard. I literally dream about salted caramel ice cream, for example, but I understand how the idea of salt in your ice cream to some could be a definite turn off.
Beyond just sweet and savory desserts, I have a real affinity for all kinds of sweet and savory flavors together. I love turkey burgers with mango chutney, salmon marinated in pineapple juice and cinnamon, pork tenderloin with peach preserves, and simple combinations like fruit and cheese. There is just something about salty and sweet that works for me.
One ingredient I love in savory applications is sweet, juicy watermelon. I spent some time in Mexico a few years ago and absolutely fell in love with the chili-lime watermelon sold by street vendors. It was so simple – a plastic cup filled with cubed watermelon, sprinkled with salt and chili powder, with a squeeze of lime juice on top. An amazingly refreshing and tasty snack! You could also buy mixed fruit cups with mango, melon and jicama with the same seasonings. I found it a perfect nosh in the later afternoon.
A few weeks ago I had dinner at Rumours East Wine Bar. I had a watermelon salad with big bright chunks of heirloom tomatoes and briny feta in a light vinaigrette. I wasn’t sure how tomatoes and watermelon would be together, but it worked wonderfully. The acidity in the tomatoes didn’t overpower the sweet, subtle watermelon, but rather complemented it. The salad was so appropriate for summer, and a really refreshing start to our meal.
That salad reminded me of a recipe I’d made a few years before. It was a watermelon salad with mint and a vinaigrette made with sriracha chili sauce. I made it for dinner with friends one night and everyone raved about it! It worked in part because the, well, watery watermelon helped quench the spice in each bite. The sweetness worked in tandem with the heat, instead of competing with it. After the salad at Rumours, I decided to try out the watermelon salad with tomatoes to see how it worked.
The results were top notch! Acidic tomatoes and sweet watermelon remains a great combination, and the punched up kick of sriracha with rice vinegar totally works. A bit of honey helped further balance the heat. I didn’t have any feta on hand, but I bet that would have been a tasty addition. I also tossed in some basil from the garden with the mint. The flavors literally explode in your mouth with each bite. It’s a fun dish to make for parties because at first glance no one is expecting a watermelon salad to be spicy! (Though be careful it’s marked well for kids.)
That’s one of the things I like best about about sweet and savory ingredients together – the flavor pop is such a surprise to your taste buds. Now if I could just get my mother on board.
Hot Watermelon & Tomato Salad
Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
1/8-1/4 cup hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
1/4 cup rice vinegar*
1 1/4 teaspoons honey
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups 1/2-inch cubes seedless watermelon
2 medium tomatoes, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
chopped fresh mint and basil
Combine chili sauce, rice vinegar and honey in the base of a medium bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil and whisk together until emulsified. Add in watermelon and tomatoes and sprinkle with herbs. Toss to combine.
If making ahead, mix dressing up in a mason jar and cube watermelon and tomatoes. Drain any liquid from the watermelon and tomatoes. Mix together right before serving and sprinkle with herbs. The longer salad sits the soupier it will become.
*Rice vinegar is made from fermented rice or rice wine. It may sometimes be called “rice wine vinegar” but since rice wine is made from fermented rice they are essentially the same thing. Seasoned rice vinegar means sake, sugar and salt have been added for flavor.
This recipe also appeared in the Tennessean.