watermelon jerusalem salad | shaptiya salad

Watermelon Jerusalem Salad

Watermelon (or shaptiya) is important to Assyrian cuisine, but it's not really the kind of thing we usually do very much to. And it's not that we usually eat things in their simplest forms; for instance, give us some yogurt, and we will spend days alchemically transforming it into hundreds of variations. We'll stew up a pot of yogurt and swiss chard soup, we'll simmer kibbeh in a yogurt broth, we'll strain it and make labneh, we'll eat it homemade as a savory or sweet snack, and we'll even spoon it over prakhe. And that's just the short list of yogurt-related recipes and pairings currently on my mind.

But watermelon? In my experience, it's always served straight up. And that's for good reason, because when it comes to watermelon, you really don't need to do much to make it delicious. Chill it, split it open, sprinkle on a tiny pinch of salt, and enjoy the most refreshing summer treat. This beautiful simplicity is what made me think of Jerusalem salad when I was dreaming up other ways to serve watermelon. At it's most straightforward, Jerusalem salad is just finely diced tomatoes and cucumbers, and this understated elegance is preserved even with the addition of another ingredient, watermelon. The watermelon itself looks just like the tomatoes, but it tastes a lot like the cucumbers, so if you were to serve this as a Jerusalem salad to friends, they might not be able to put their finger on what's different about it (besides the glaringly different feta cheese). When you introduce something that doesn't fall in line with the tomato-cucumber binary, the flavors become just a little harder to pin down.

Watermelon
Watermelon

While I love watermelon, it comes with a couple hang-ups. First of all, there's nothing worse than cutting open a mealy, bland, and pale one. The natural solution is to only shop for watermelon when it's in season, but this isn't always enough to guarantee ripeness. And you know a ripe melon when you taste one: it's got that perfectly deep coral color, juicy, toothsome texture that's not quite crunchy, but never soggy, and that delicious melon flavor that's sweet, but with a hint of refreshing cucumber. You should definitely try to shop for melons when they're in season because this gives you the best chance, but it's totally possible to get a dud in the middle of July, and it's also possible to get a perfect melon in the dead of winter.

So when you can't just rely on knowing the season, selecting a good melon might seem totally perplexing. But it's actually somewhat straightforward if you know what to look for. Watermelons need to ripen on the vine, and there are two easy ways to tell whether a melon has had enough time to ripen.

  1. The most important thing to look for is a yellow patch on the bottom. This is where the watermelon sat in the dirt while it grew, and the patch can range anywhere from bright white to deep yellowish-orange. Generally, the yellower the patch, the riper the watermelon. You can see an example of a very yellow patch in the photo above.

  2. The watermelon should also feel pretty heavy for its size.

So if it's in season, it feels heavy for its size, and it has a very yellow patch, you've found a good one.

Watermelon Jerusalem Salad
Watermelon Jerusalem Salad

So we've talked about how to find a good one, but (at least for me!) the other watermelon hangup is all that waste. First, there's the huge pile of watermelon rind left over after you slice up all the pink stuff. And then there's the other three quarters of a watermelon left over after you've made a big salad and eaten nothing but those adorably cheerful wedges for days. They start to seem a little less cheerful on day three right? There's going to be a bonus post addressing the second problem in a few days (i.e., I'll give you a few ideas of how to use up all that leftover watermelon, with very few additional ingredients). But this salad tackles the first problem, since I ask you to make a quick pickle of some of the watermelon rinds.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

I've definitely been known to make some questionable meals out of extremely questionable leftover food scraps, because I just hate to see anything go to waste. But my own frugality and environmentalism aside, I'd never insist that you do the same if I didn't think it tasted good. So I can say with total conviction that this watermelon rind quickle truly tastes good. This salad is not the same without it.

If you've never eaten watermelon rind, you might be skeptical, but it's actually a really common ingredient in a few different cultures. A watermelon rind preserve post will have to wait until next summer, because I don't want to turn this into an exclusively watermelon-themed-content food blog, and I'm afraid it might start to seem that way after this week. Before I get to the salad recipe, I'll just leave you with Iraqi food blogger Sara Ahmad's beautiful post about watermelon rind preserves. "At thirty, I’ve surely tasted so many peculiar flavors that it must be rare to be so startled, and by something that looks and feels like a basic marmalade. Yet, here I am, confronted with a taste unlike anything I’ve ever had before. This sparks one of those trite deeply personal inspirations: there is so much life out there."

Watermelon Jerusalem Salad
Watermelon Jerusalem Salad

Watermelon Jerusalem Salad

yield: 6-8 servings
active time: 25 minutes
total time: 1 hour 25 minutes
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watermelon rind quick pickles

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1 cup small diced watermelon rind (green skins removed before dicing)

  1. Mix the sugar, salt, and vinegar together until everything dissolves, and then submerge the watermelon rind in the vinegar and quick pickle it for 30 to 45 minutes while you're prepping the rest of the ingredients. Once it's done pickling, strain it very well and discard the vinegar or save it for another use (let the vinegar drain away for about 2 to 5 minutes).

assembling the salad

  • 4 cups small diced red watermelon (from about 1/4 of 1 medium watermelon or 1/2 of 1 mini watermelon)

  • 1 1/2 cups small diced tomato (from about 3 medium tomatoes)

  • 3 cups small diced cucumber (from about 5 Persian cucumbers)

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion (from about 2 green onions)

  • 1/4 cup washed, towel-dried, and minced fresh mint, plus 1 tablespoon more for garnish

  • The juice of 1 lemon

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • More salt to taste (optional)

  • 8 ounces small diced firm feta (about 1 1/2 cups) *

  1. Gently fold together the watermelon, tomato, cucumber, and salt, and refrigerate for an hour.

  2. After an hour has gone by, strain the salad through a fine mesh colander, discarding the liquid. Do not press the salad against the colander, but gently shake the colander a few times to drain away the excess liquid. **

  3. Add the green onion, mint, lemon juice, olive oil, any additional salt, and the well-strained watermelon rind pickles, and gently fold to combine.

  4. At the last moment, very gently fold in the diced feta after you've made sure that the pieces are not stuck together.

  5. Garnish with another tablespoon minced fresh mint and serve immediately.

* For this recipe, a firm feta is best. If you're using a soft feta, you should instead crumble it into big pieces and be extra careful when folding it in. If it's soft cheese, don't try to evenly distribute it or the pieces will just dissolve.
** Feel free to check out my original Jerusalem Salad post if you want to see why I like to salt and strain Jerusalem salad. I've also got a recipe for Jerusalem salad pico de gallo, which doesn't require straining.

Watermelon Jerusalem Salad

pickled mango | amba

Amba

People who are used to eating a lot of Middle Eastern food are generally not afraid of sourness. There should be some element in a Middle Eastern dinner that, if eaten on its own, would make your eyes squint shut, your nose fill with vinegar, and your mouth pucker to a point.

Not all of us eat these things on their own or have an obsession with sour foods, but eating entire lemons whole is not unheard of. We sometimes dust on so much sumac that you can't see the food underneath. After doling out pomegranate molasses, we lick the spoon, and make the face. It's almost unbearable—it brings tears to our eyes. And if you're always trying to find something that's another level of sour, amba, or pickled mango, is a really good one.

Mangoes
Mango

According to Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, amba (also known as torshi anbeh) is originally from India, but it has become a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine. The key to amba's distinct flavor is fenugreek seeds, which taste a little like celery, but with a nice umami flavor and fragrance. Many good yellow curry powders include fenugreek seeds, so if you can't find them, substituting more yellow curry powder in its place will approximate the flavor. I've included instructions in the recipe for anyone who needs to make this substitution. Middle Eastern amba doesn't always include mango, but fenugreek seems to be the uniting factor in just about all recipes. For instance, cabbage amba is another popular amba pickle. Sham of Vegan Iraqi Food has a wonderful recipe for cabbage amba, with plenty of fenugreek flavor. But in any event, amba is incredibly tart and delicious.

Spices
Amba / Pickled Mangoes
Amba / Pickled Mangoes

One of the things that makes mango amba so tangy is the fact that you're starting out with an ingredient that's already sour before it even hits the vinegar brine. Instead of standing in the produce aisle gently pressing on every mango to try to find the one that yields to slight pressure, you'll weed through a million ripe, perfect mangoes to find the tough green ones that everyone else rejects. These mangoes are crunchy, tart, and ideal for pickling, since they will soften slightly instead of entirely melting into the vinegar.

While ripe mangoes are a cinch to slice into pieces, unripe mangoes are just a little different, since you have to use a lot more pressure to slice through it, and the peel won't release from the meat very easily. Feel free to use the gifs above as a guide.

Prepping the mangoes is the most time-consuming part of this recipe, but it only takes about ten minutes. Everything else is as simple as boiling the water, vinegar, and seasoning, pouring it over the mango slices, and letting it sit in the fridge for at least a day or two. Like any pickle, amba will keep for a long time. Discard it after a while if it seems off (but, as they say, it probably won't last that long).

Amba / Pickled Mangoes

Pickled mango | amba

yields: 2 pints
active time: 15 minutes
total time: at least 3 hours 15 minutes
for a salad variation, check out my
amba slaw
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PDF to print

  • 3 green, unripened mangoes *

  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 3/4 cups water

  • 3/4 cups apple cider vinegar

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons curry powder

  • 3/4 teaspoons ground turmeric

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons ground fenugreek seeds **

  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1 3/4 teaspoons fine sea salt

  1. Pit and peel the mangoes and then slice them into thin strips. Coat them in lemon juice. ***

  2. Pack the mangoes into two pint-sized canning jars.

  3. In a small saucepan, combine water, cider vinegar, curry powder, turmeric, fenugreek, red pepper flakes, and sea salt. Bring to a boil and then immediately remove from heat. Pour over the mangoes.

  4. This recipe is designed for 2 pints, but if you need to, feel free to top them off with a tablespoon or two of lemon juice. If the tops are poking out, give them a shake every day for the first few days.

  5. Store the amba in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours before serving. It is pretty good as a quickle after 3 hours, but it's even better after a few days.

Serving suggestions: This is a very flavorful pickle and should be served with food that doesn't have a lot of flavor and piquancy of its own; use this anywhere you want to add acidity and brightness, like you would with a chutney, relish, or salsa. Serve alongside grilled meats and veggies, burgers, hot dogs, riza sh'ariyeh, and/or a simple salad with a very light dressing. Leave the amount of amba up to your guests instead of plating it for them. Everyone has a different preference for tartness, and while some guests will polish off a whole pint, others will only have one or two pieces (but rest assured, just about everyone will love it).

* The mangoes should be very firm and should not yield to pressure. It's ok if they are a little red, but they should be mostly green (judge by squeezing more than color).
** You can easily find ground fenugreek seeds online or in almost any Indian market. Although they're from the same plant, they taste very different from fenugreek leaves (just like cilantro doesn't taste like coriander seeds). You can sometimes find fenugreek seeds in Middle Eastern markets and health foods stores, but I find that Indian markets are the only really reliable source. If you can't find ground fenugreek seeds, feel free to leave it out and use a total of 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon curry powder for the recipe.
*** See above gifs for instructions on pitting and peeling unripe mangoes. It's a little different than pitting and peeling a ripe mango, since you can't easily separate the flesh from the peel and you have to use a bit more pressure to slice through, and must therefore stabilize it.

Amba / Pickled Mangoes