Watermelon Jicama Salad with Cotija, Cumin and Lime

A piquant take on the ubiquitous watermelon feta salad, this gets a boost from crunchy jicama, cotija cheese, and an eye-opening dressing.

*Many thanks to Jered’s Pottery, Cogworks and Milkman for sponsoring the blog this month! Click the links to be transported to Berkeley-made ceramic tableware, New Hampshire-crafted wooden serving boards, and San Francisco-squeezed nut milks that taste like magic. Thank you for supporting the small local brands that support this site!*

How do you feel about watermelon? I was just not that into it until one summer when I tagged along with Jay’s band to Nantucket. There I discovered the wonders of Dark n’ Stormy cocktails, cranberry bogs, and the joy of having an ocean that’s actually warm enough to swim in.One evening we attended a gala of sorts on the beach which featured stands of oyster shuckers, bottomless champagne, and an enormous buffet complete with roasted meats, platters of cheese, and several cold salads. The watermelon feta was my favorite. Now watermelon salad will be always be linked with the feeling of cool sand in my toes and watching the late summer sun set.

I’ve always felt pretty meh about most melons and especially watermelons, but that salad changed my mind. And maybe it’s the unusual heat in SF this year, but lately I can’t seem to get enough watermelon. Our co-op has been carrying some adorable varieties such as Tiger Baby, and I couldn’t resist picking one up (not just because it’s named after my spirit animal, but because I actually wanted to eat it).

I had no plans for said watermelon, but one hot day last month I found myself with some leftover cotija cheese from chilaquiles adventures, an organic jicama that Jay’s been slicing into green salads, and some rogue herbs. I threw some cumin and coriander in a pan to toast, then I mixed everything up with some ancho chile powder, good olive oil, and sliced cucumbers.

We inhaled the salad.

After lunch, Jay rhapsodized, “Salty and sour, sweet and savory – that just had everything going on.”

For a hot minute, I fancied myself a highly original domestic goddess. I was wrong. Watermelon, jicama and cotija salad is a well-loved flavor combination.

And for good reason. Cotija is queso fresco’s more flavorful cousin and it plays well with sweet watermelon the same way that briny feta does. The cumin and coriander add savory notes and dimension to tangy lime and olive oil dressing. Ancho chile isn’t spicy, but it adds a toasty warmth and brick-red hue. Jicama and cucumber add crunch along with fresh mint and cilantro. And the little bits of salty cotija give you something to sink your teeth into. Sometimes I add slivered red onion and chunks of avocado when I’m feeling extra fancy.

I like this salad best when left to marinate for a few hours in the fridge; this makes it a perfect party or pot luck salad.

What do you like to do with watermelon? Here are a few recipes I’ve got my sights on.

Drink:
Watermelon Ginger Aperol Spritz Cocktails from Salt + Wind
Watermelon White Sangria from Cookie+ Kate
Watermelon Basil Colada from What’s Cooking Good Looking
The Sugar Hollow: Watermelon Gin Cocktail with Cardamom and Lime from Will Frolic for Food
Watermelon Hibiscus Margarita from Supergolden Bakes

Eat:
Watermelon Gazpacho from Simply Recipes
Spicy Ginger Watermelon Popsicles from With Food+ Love
Grilled Halloumi and Watermelon from Camille Styles
Honey Grilled Watermelon Caprese Salads from How Sweet It Is
Watermelon Bruschetta with Whipped Feta, Basil and Balsamic from Host the Toast
Watermelon Salsa from Gimme Some Oven

Plus!:
How to Pick a Watermelon (and Watermelon Mint Agua Fresca) from Snixy Kitchen

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Salad days:

Wasabi Caesar Salad with Smoked Salmon and Nori
Farro and Cucumber Salad with Feta, Dill and Mint
Cucumber Melon Caprese Salad

Watermelon Jicama Salad with Cumin, Chile and Lime

Few foods are as welcome on a hot day as this salad! Feel free to be loosey-goosey with the ingredients here, adding more or less of anything to your taste. Ancho chile powder is usually not spicy in the slightest, but it lends a warm, toasty flavor to this salad. If using a spicier chile powder, add it pinch by pinch to taste. If you can’t find cotija cheese, trade in queso fresco or feta, or leave off the cheese for a vegan variation. I like this salad best when left to marinate in the fridge for a few hours so the watermelon can absorb flavor from the spices and herbs.

Makes 2 large or 4 smaller servings

Dressing:
1 teaspoon coriander seed
½ teaspoon cumin seed
¾ teaspoon mild ancho chile powder
½ teaspoon flaky salt (such as Maldon)
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon super good olive oil
juice of 1-2 limes (to taste)

Salady Bits:
3 cups (1 pound / 460 g) chunked watermelon flesh (about ¼-½of a mini seedless melon)
1 smallish Persian cucumber (1/2 cup / 60 g), thinly sliced
1 cup (120 g) peeled, slivered jicama
2-4 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled (1/2 – 1 cup)
a few handfuls mint leaves, torn if large
a few handfuls cilantro leaves, torn
½ – 1 large avocado, ripe but firm, chunked (optional)
a bit of slivered red onion (optional)

Place the cumin and coriander seed in a small, dry skillet, and toast over medium heat, shuffling the skillet often, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Cool, then grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

In a large bowl, combine the watermelon, cucumber, and jicama. Sprinkle with the ground spices, chile powder, salt, pepper, and drizzle with the olive oil and juice of 1 lime. Toss to coat, then toss in the cheese, herbs, and onion and avocado if using. Taste, adding more of anything you feel the salad needs. Serve right away, or cover and chill for up to 4 hours.

14 thoughts on “Watermelon Jicama Salad with Cotija, Cumin and Lime”

  1. This just made my day, Alanna!! I'm sending to Audrey as we speak. During summer, this becomes a watermelon-only household (tunnel-o-fudge is also acceptable, but that's a different story). The jicama is what does it for me here. Jay was right (as usual), this salad hits all the high notes. Btw, I'd love to rhapsodize with Jay sometime. Just sayin.

  2. Don't worry, you're still a highly original domestic goddess!! this is the BEST salad to end summer on a high note with! crunchy jicama and watermelon just go together

  3. I think that to really appreciate watermelon, you need to be somewhere that's seriously sweltering. This salad sounds like a great way to eat plenty of it! I love the combination of crispy veg, sweet fruit, and plenty of complex spices.

  4. I have watermelon in my fridge as long as it's in season… Dare I say, it's an addiction? Blending up a shaved cucumber with cold watermelon provides the most delectable refresher! This salad, now, I'll have to give it a go. Not only is it gorgeous, but it's got so many delicious flavors happening… and the textures? I'll need to grab some jicama, and I'll be set! Thank you for another fabulous recipe (and links!) to enjoy, Alanna!!

  5. I've been dying to visit Jered's to check out their goods because I'm in need of new props for the blog! I love having food with cotija in restaurants, but I've never played with it at home before. Definitely giving it a try!

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