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This Watermelon Salad with Queso Fresco, Lime, and Cilantro is the perfect refreshing, colorful side dish for your summer festivities. The simple, fresh ingredients create the perfect balance of sweet and salty- the juicy watermelon, the salty crumbled cheese, and the tangy lime juice and zest… YUM!
I could eat this all day. This is the kind of recipe that just screams summer. The watermelon is ripe and juicy and sweet and miraculously doesn’t get soggy even when you make this in advance (thanks in part to a special trick I’ll get to in a second).
But first, we need to talk a bit about the cheese. Glorious, glorious queso fresco.
I’ve been a bit obsessed with queso fresco lately- it’s a super simple Mexican farmer’s cheese that has a crumbly, dry texture and mild taste similar to feta. In fact, this watermelon salad recipe is a spin-off of the more traditional watermelon, feta, and mint salad, but with a Mexican twist thanks to the queso fresco, cilantro, and lime.
I used Cacique® Queso Fresco for this, and it had the PERFECT texture and salty flavor I was looking for to complement the sweet watermelon. When crumbled, it had some large pieces and some super small pieces- perfect for ensuring that each bite of the salad was coated in the delicious cheese.
Which brings me to my first tip for this recipe: To create the perfect queso fresco crumbles, use a fork. Just pull pieces of cheese away using the tines of the fork and it will crumble into perfect pieces. If the pieces seem too big, you can run a knife through them after to break them up a bit more.
I strongly recommend using this fork-crumbling method rather than cutting the cheese into small pieces- this way, you get that balance of large and small pieces that really enhance the texture and salty flavor of each bite of the salad.
To make the salad, the watermelon is mixed with five other main ingredients- olive oil, queso fresco, cilantro, lime juice, and lime zest. I divided the queso fresco, cilantro, and lime juice in half when I mixed it, and sprinkled the remains on top of it once it had been mixed. This made the salad extra pretty and colorful, with bright pops of the green cilantro and bright white cheese against the red watermelon. Gorgeous. I just love colorful food.
I also saved some of the olive oil to drizzle on top of the entire salad, which gave it a gorgeous sheen.
The only other ingredients the salad has is salt and pepper. Which brings me to my next tip: add the salt and pepper on top of the salad JUST BEFORE serving. Salt draws liquid out of fruit and vegetables, and can make salads soggy. This way, you can mix this salad up in advance, stick it in your fridge for a day, and finish seasoning it right before serving without risking sogginess.
I remember when I was in college, I was introduced to eating salt on watermelon for the first time. My friends just took a salt shaker and went to town on a wedge of watermelon. I was skeptical at first, but oh boy, was it a treat. Like salted caramel, or prosciutto with cantaloupe, or flaked sea salt on brownies, it was such a great balance of sweet and salty. That’s why I was SO excited about this salad!
The next time I make this (is tomorrow too soon?), I’m thinking of adding a spicy kick to it. Next to sweet and salty, sweet and spicy is one of my favorite flavor combinations. A bit of chili powder, cayenne pepper, or a chopped fresh jalapeño would be awesome additions to this watermelon salad….