Vietnamese-Inspired Watermelon and Tomato Salad
Tomatoes for days — and watermelon too!
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Annnd, we’re back!
I hope you’ve all been having a great summer! Just as many of you are probably headed to the beach, I’m packing up and heading to the city as we get ready to welcome tenants for the next three weeks. It’s hard to leave this beautiful place during peak summer, but I’m looking forward to the still gorgeous and much calmer days of September when we return. We’ll be spending a little time in Fire Island too ... I’ll be sending a dispatch from there later in the month.
Two things that most of us have plenty of right now are tomatoes and watermelon. We don't need much of a recipe to enjoy either one. A simple dressing of oil, salt, pepper, and basil is just about all you need for a sublime tomato-eating experience. Or for some people, a big, fat slice of tomato — still warm from the sun — sandwiched between two pieces of soft white bread with some mayo is the ultimate. Not really my thing, but toast the bread and add bacon and lettuce, and I’m in. I’m sure you all have your favorites, and feel free to let me know in the comments how you like your tomatoes. I’d like to hear about it!
And as for watermelon, the local ones are finally here. My brother and his family came to visit last weekend, and I asked him to stop at a particular farmstand that is a bit of a trek for me, but was right along his way here. This time of year it is absolutely laden with the best produce, including the best selection of ripe melons, gigantic heads of crisp lettuce, every kind of eggplant, peppers, and, of course, tomatoes, along with many other vegetables and fruits. I’m not sure how they do it. Very dry conditions have withered some of the crops closer to home, but at Halsey Farm Store, everything is big and abundant. Maybe it’s because they’ve been doing it since 1747? Check out the link to ogle their selection.
Back to the watermelon. When I saw it, I thought, “Wow, there’s no way we’re eating all of that! I’ll cut it in half and put some of it away.” Well, this watermelon was so good, everyone was eating it as fast as I could cut it. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it was the best watermelon I have ever had. We demolished it in 24 hours. Needless to say, I made the trek back there the following Monday, because I had to have more!
While these two peak summer produce items don’t necessarily need any embellishments, sometimes you want something a little more elevated that still takes advantage of the juicy, fresh, luscious qualities that these two symbols of summer embody.
In that case, have I got the recipe for you! This simple but special salad is topped with fried shallots — which are surprisingly easy to make — and take things to the next level. Their crunch and flavor add so much complexity here, as does the fish sauce. If you’re afraid of fish sauce, don’t be! If you take a whiff from the bottle, you might be put off, but used as an element in a balanced dressing, it adds an amazing flavor that doesn’t taste fishy, but rather adds an umami dimension that is unique to Southeast Asian dishes. Everyone should have a bottle in their pantry!
Today’s salad — my Vietnamese-Inspired Watermelon and Tomato Salad — goes really well with any simply grilled protein. Pork tenderloin, beef, chicken, or shrimp would all be perfect along with some cold noodles. My kind of summer dinner!
What else to cook with all those tomatoes
Before we get to today’s recipe, here are some additional ideas for how to make the most of your tomato harvest.
Pan Bagnat (aka a Niçoise sandwich)
Slow-Roasted Strawberries and Tomatoes (pictured above)
And let’s not forget the famous bruschetta I styled for Julie & Julia. I never imagined this non-Julia recipe would end up being the star of the show. The bread might have been a little too crunchy. This scene got a little loud.
Here’s the formula for the official bruschetta that graced the silver screen, published at the time in The Atlantic. And here’s the scene itself:
Vietnamese-Inspired Watermelon and Tomato Salad
Serves 4 to 6
I really love purslane in this salad for its lemony flavor and juicy texture, but I realize it’s not always readily available, so using arugula is perfectly fine. We belong to a pick-your-own CSA in eastern Long Island called Quail Hill Farm, and purslane is basically a weed that pops up in between the rows and anywhere it can. I pick it when I see it, as there is plenty of it. I even have seen it growing in urban pavement cracks and my herb pots on the deck! I also have seen it in recent years being sold as a crop in farmer’s markets, but you might want to forage in the garden before paying good money for it.
For the salad:
2 small shallots, sliced crosswise and separated into rings (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 pounds seedless watermelon (weighed with rind), or 1/2 small seedless watermelon
4 cups trimmed purslane or arugula
1 pound heirloom tomatoes (2 to 3), cut into wedges
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1 small red chile, thinly sliced
For the dressing:
2 teaspoons white or yellow miso
1 tablespoon fish sauce
Dash of sriracha
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 1 juicy lime)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
To make the salad: Toss the shallots with the flour on a small plate. Have a paper towel–lined plate nearby. If you have a pair of cooking tweezers, now is the time to use them! Heat the oil in a small (8-inch) heavy skillet over medium heat until a shallot ring sizzles gently when dropped in. When the oil is hot, add all the shallots and fry until browned and crisp, about 4 to 6 minutes. As they cook, stir occasionally and remove any that start to get too brown. Scoop out with a slotted spoon or frying strainer and drain on the paper towels.
Cut the watermelon into flat triangular pieces. Spread the purslane on a platter or shallow serving bowl. Arrange the watermelon on top with the tomatoes, mint leaves, and chile.
To make the dressing: Whisk all the ingredients in a small bowl and drizzle over the salad.
Top the salad with the shallots, grind pepper over top, and serve.