Recipe Review

Jacques Pépin’s Watermelon Salad Is Giving Me Serious ’90s Vibes

published Jun 22, 2022
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A graphic of Jacques Pépin and his watermelon salad recipe
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne; Headshot: Getty Images

If I’m going to try four popular watermelon salad recipes in a showdown, you better believe we’re going to need a contender that calls for a melon baller. To me, perfectly spherical watermelon is extremely nostalgic because I am a child of the ’90s and every summertime watermelon salad that I came across had watermelon balls. My family had a melon baller and I have vivid memories of sinking it into the flesh of a watermelon and carving out each watermelon ball. Ah, the memories.

Anyway, the most popular balled watermelon salad that I came across in my research was Jacques Pépin’s for Food & Wine. Not only did it incorporate watermelon balls, but it also had a spicy dressing, olives, and chopped sweet onion. Of course I had to give this one a try. Here’s how it went.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne; Headshot: Getty Images

How to Make Jacques Pépin’s Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint

First, make the dressing by whisking olive oil, fresh lemon juice, Tabasco, salt, and pepper. Next, add the balled watermelon, crumbled feta cheese, chopped olives, and chopped sweet onion. Pepin instructs you to add the watermelon scraps, as well. Make sure you’re using a seedless watermelon, as the seeds can be troublesome when trying to scoop perfect balls. Garnish with fresh mint and serve immediately.

My Honest Review of Jacques Pépin’s Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint

This was a great salad. The dressing was simple but on-point, the mix-ins were tasty, and the balled watermelon is undeniably fun. Do the spherical watermelon shapes make for a better-tasting salad? Maybe not, but they do look really nice — and you know that good ol’ “you eat with your eyes first” thing.

Making watermelon balls takes more prep time than simply cubing the fruit, but I find it to be a satisfying kitchen task. Jacques instructs you to toss the watermelon trimmings in with the fruit spheres, so there’s no worries about waste here. I will also remind you that making watermelon balls is a great job to pass off to an eager child, who may one day reflect fondly on their childhood adventures creating watermelon balls in a watermelon salad recipe showdown. Dare to dream!

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

As a kid, I do not remember having black olives in my watermelon salad, likely because I wouldn’t be able to enjoy them. Now, as a seasoned adult with a mature palate, I can proudly say that I loved the olive addition. Of course, if you aren’t an olive person, you can totally leave them out.

Of the four watermelon salad recipes in the showdown, this was the only one that incorporated any level of spice, and I quite liked it. Again, if kids or picky eaters are going to be chowing down on this salad, it might be best to be a bit conservative with the hot sauce, but I think watermelon salads are a great vessel for a little bit of heat.

If I Were to Make Jacques Pépin’s Watermelon Salad with Feta and Mint Again

My only note with this salad is that I prefer to crumble the cheese onto the salad after it’s been tossed (this is how Martha does it). It doesn’t affect the taste of the salad, but I find that once feta has been rustled around with the other ingredients, it adds a small, gritty film of white crumbs over the entire salad. From a visual perspective, watermelon salads look much fresher and more appealing when the feta is crumbled on top versus mixed in.

Overall rating: 8.5/10