Here’s a salad for these final dog days of summer, one that’s juicy and refreshing and not too much work. It’s not very different from other watermelon salads out there except for the addition of cornichons, those little French pickled gherkins. They add a crunchy, vinegary zing that I never knew was missing from watermelon salads. I first tried it this way at Saraghina, an Italian restaurant in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Saraghina does things like that—adding quartered cornichons to their watermelon salad—tricks that seem obvious and revelatory at the same time. They’re quartered lengthwise, too. Why does that matter—why can’t you just chop them up into little rounds? I don’t know. Maybe it’s that they’re easier to spear with your fork, or that you get the right amount of puckery zing per bite. You just have to do it.
It’s best served very cold—start with a cold, refrigerated watermelon, or allow time for the salad to chill before serving. This might even be the time to chill your salad plates and serving platter, too. Serve it over a pile of arugula or other favorite salad greens, as directed here, or make it into a heartier main by adding a scoop of cooked quinoa to the greens. Most summery, juicy fruits and vegetables are good additions—stone fruits, cucumbers, even halved grapes. In one round for this recipe I added some torn chunks of fresh mozzarella, which made it terrifically decadent. Be creative and let the farmer’s market inspire you, but make haste. September is approaching.
Saraghina-Style Watermelon Salad
Serves 4 to 6
1/4 of a medium red onion, sliced into thinnest possible strips
1/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus a pinch
6 cups cubed and seeded watermelon, about a 3/4-inch dice
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup crumbled feta
12 cornichons, quartered lengthwise
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Zest and juice of half a lime
Freshly ground black pepper
Handful mint leaves
4 cups baby arugula
Good olive oil for drizzling
Place the onion in a large mixing bowl. Add a pinch of salt and the sugar and massage with your fingers, until the onions glisten. Let stand for about 5 minutes, then give them a squeeze, discarding any liquid that extracts.
Add the watermelon, tomatoes, feta, cornichons, red wine vinegar, lime zest and juice, several grinds of black pepper, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt to the onions. Tear the mint leaves over the bowl, then gently mix everything together with your hands.
Scatter the arugula over a serving platter or large, shallow bowl, then spread the watermelon salad over the top. Liquid will have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl—I just drink that rather than serving it.
Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, then garnish with a few more torn mint leaves and a pinch of coarse salt if you like. Serve immediately.