watermelon raita

Yesterday, a friend reminded me that every once in a while, creativity pays off. In a world where ideas are cheap but increasingly void of meaning, I pounced on the opportunity to win some cash for an hour spent experimenting with a large melon. Let me explain.


It happened in the blink of an eye. While hanging out after competing in a triathlon together, my friend informed me that there was money to be made in the cheese aisle. She works at an advertising company, and one of her clients is running a contest: Buy cheese. Invent salad. Win cash. As we stood there in our sweaty post-tri glow (waiting to mount the podium for our respective age group awards, I must add), she convinced me to try my hand.

When it comes to a $500 Wegman’s gift certificate, I have no shame. Président cheese, you are my master.


That same friend had some pre-race advice too:  Never try anything new on race day. She was talking about the wet suit I’d never tested out in the water (which, incidentally, transformed me into a hyperventilating slug). It turns out I’m familiar with this advice when it applies to food: I seldom test a new invention on guests.

Conveniently, I had a birthday potluck to attend tonight. If the salad bombed, someone else would eat it. (It’s not that I don’t love people, but the general public is as good a candidate for a edible pawn-off as any.)


As with any invention, this salad is an amalgam of things that came before: My first watermelon salad at Dish last week in Colorado being one of them. (If you’re ever in the Vail Valley, do yourself a favor and eat there.) Dotted with pumpkin seeds, watercress, and goat cheese, it endeared me a little more to my least favorite melon.

I wanted to recreate the salad, but add enough new elements to make it truly mine. I got to thinking about great salads: cool Indian raita and my ultimate favorite Middle-East-inspired one. When it came to watermelon salad, I knew I couldn’t break the rules — I didn’t know them. A quick trip to Wegmans and I was ready to paint my melon-pink canvas with mint, cucumber, dates, and yogurt.


The result? A salad I was happy to share around a table and around the Web. And here is where you come in: vote for my salad at www.presidentsaladcontest.com before August 23rd. Your click will help fuel foodie creativity the world over. Or at least in one little second-storey apartment.

Watermelon Raita

serves 6-8 as a side

3-4 cups seedless watermelon, diced
1 lb campari tomatoes, diced and drained
1 large English cucumber, sliced lengthwise, seeded and diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup thinly sliced mint, divided in half
½ cup chopped dates
salt and pepper
1 cup plain yogurt
juice of one lime
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp powdered sumac, if available
salt and pepper
firm feta cheese, crumbled
pine nuts, optional

  1. Combine the chopped watermelon, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Toss with olive oil, half the mint, and dates. Season with salt and pepper. Continue to drain as the salad sits.
  2. For the dressing, stir together the yogurt, lime juice, remaining mint, oregano and sumac. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
  3. Chill the salad and the dressing. When ready to serve, sprinkle the salad with as much feta cheese as desired. Serve the dressing separately to preserve the salad’s bright colors. Drizzle each plate with dressing, and top with pine nuts if desired.

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