Refreshing, summery watermelon salad with salty feta cheese, juicy white nectarines, peppery arugula, fresh basil, and a drizzle of homemade balsamic glaze.
I know, I know, I know. Watermelon feta salad. For summer?
*Meryl Streep voice*: groundbreaking.
But hear me out, cause I swear, this one just hits different. I’ve had a lot of watermelon salads in my day but there is something about this combination in particular that just takes it up a notch. For starters, watermelon + nectarines + balsamic = heaven. I have truly found my new favorite summer snack. Then, we balance it out with some peppery arugula and fresh basil from the garden, and it’s out of this world.
I spent all of last week in Las Vegas where it hit, I’m not even kidding, a high of 121 degrees. In case you were wondering why I have no interest in ever moving back. Anyways, during this heatwave we’ve been going through, all I want to eat is light summery salads and this watermelon salad is by far my new go-to! Simple prep, no cooking, make-ahead-able, just a few ingredients. And, if you were curious, yes, the leftovers make for the perfect lazy breakfast/lunch situation.
Turn on the grill, pour a glass of rosé, and soak up some sun. We’re officially in full summer mode over here. 🙌
Ingredients you’ll need
To make this watermelon salad with feta and nectarines, you will need:
- Watermelon – I usually go with a seedless, personal watermelon. You can use a regular watermelon as well! If you don’t feel like cubing it, try using a melon baller.
- Feta cheese – pre-crumbled or a freshly-cut block both work. I usually prefer to slice a block into cubes because it tastes more flavorful.
- Arugula – sometimes called rocket! It adds a nice, peppery flavor which balances out the sweetness.
- White nectarines – yellow nectarines, yellow peaches, or white peaches also work.
- Basil – go with fresh basil, not dried.
- Balsamic vinegar – to make up our glaze. I usually splurge on a high-quality balsamic in this recipe because it gets nice and syrupy.
- Basics – freshly cracked black pepper, flaky salt (I like Maldon), and brown sugar.
How to make this salad
This watermelon salad with feta and peaches is pretty foolproof but requires just a bit of prep! Here’s how to make it:
- Make the balsamic glaze – simmer balsamic vinegar with a bit of brown sugar until it coats the back of a spoon. Then, pour the glaze into a bowl and let it cool while you prepare the rest of the salad.
- Prep the ingredients – next, cube the watermelon, crumble the feta cheese, slice the peaches, and julienne the basil.
- Layer the salad – spread a few handfuls of arugula on a large salad plate. Layer the watermelon cubes, feta cheese, and sliced peaches. Lastly, drizzle with the balsamic glaze and season with flaky salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
Picking the perfect watermelon
It’s always sad when watermelon is dry and flavorless. Since sweet, juicy melon really makes this salad, it’s important to pick a good one. But don’t worry! I have a few tips on how to pick a delicious watermelon every time:
- Color – look for a watermelon with contrasting stripes. The stripes should alternate between dark green and creamy green-yellow.
- Field spot – each watermelon should have a field spot, a.k.a. where the watermelon sat on the ground as it grew. This spot should be creamy and yellow, not white or cream-colored.
- Dullness – the rind should be pretty dull. A shiny watermelon is likely underripe.
- Veiny webbing – look for dry, veiny webs on the rind of the melon. Those veins are the sugar coursing through the melon, making it nice and sweet.
- Give it a knock – if it sounds hollow, it’s good to go! But, if the sound is dull, it’s not ripe yet.
- Roundness – the rounder the melon, the sweeter. Oval melons tend to be a bit more watery.
- Heft – the watermelon should feel pretty heavy for its size. This means it has more water and it’ll be sweeter.
TL;DR? Essentially, the uglier the watermelon, the tastier it’ll be!
A make-ahead option
The best part of this salad is that you can make it in advance for BBQs, picnics, and parties. To prepare it in advance, make it up to the point where you add the balsamic glaze. Then, right before serving, drizzle the balsamic glaze over the salad, and add salt and pepper to taste! Avoid adding dressing or salt, because the salt will bring out all of the juices in the watermelon and make the salad soggy.
What to pair with watermelon salad
Luckily, this salad goes with pretty much any summery meal! Here are a few ideas:
- Grilled chicken, pork, steak, prawns, or fish
- Portabello mushrooms and other summer veggies
- Corn on the cob
- Pasta salad
- BBQ baked beans or marinated beans
If you want to switch this watermelon feta salad up a bit, it’s pretty easy to do! I like swapping out some of the ingredients depending on what main dish I’m making:
- Watermelon – use cantaloupe, honeydew, or other melon!
- Feta – try ricotta salata, Mozzarella, cotija, or Parmesan.
- Nectarines – use berries, apricots, cucumber, or green apple instead.
- Arugula – frisée, butter lettuce, and baby kale all make great alternatives.
- Basil – mint, cilantro, and chives are all delicious with watermelon!
Tips & Tricks
Use fresh ingredients! Cutting up your own watermelon and feta makes a huge difference in the flavor of this salad. I promise it’s worth the extra time!
If you don’t want to cut the watermelon into chunks, you can always use a melon baller.
Leftovers get a little watery over time, but they’re still good as long as the salad only sits for a night or so! Just store leftovers in an airtight container and place them in the fridge.
More summery salads you’ll love
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Watermelon Salad with Feta & Nectarines
- 1/2 c balsamic vinegar, good-quality
- 2 Tbs brown sugar, optional
- 3 c arugula
- 5 c seedless watermelon, cubed
- 2 oz feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
- 1 large white nectarine, sliced
- 1/4 c fresh basil, julienned
- Freshly cracked blck pepper and flaky salt, to taste
- To make the balsamic glaze, combine the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar (if using) in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a simmer.
- Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning, until the glaze is slightly thickened and reduced by half. (If you aren't using brown sugar, it'll take closer to 20 minutes). It should coat the back of the spoon. Pour the glaze into a bowl and let cool to room temperature, at least 15 minutes.
- To make the salad, spread the arugula evenly on a medium sized platter. Layer the watermelon cubes, feta cheese, sliced nectarines, and basil over the arugula. Drizzle with 2 Tablespoons (or more) of the balsamic glaze and sprinkle with black pepper and flaky salt.
xo Sara Lynn
*Song of the day: Eternal Summer by The Strokes