Give Your Watermelon Salad A North African Flare With This Spicy Condiment

Nothing quite says summertime like sweet, peak-season watermelon, and it shows up at summer soirees in more ways than one. You really can't beat a taste of this fruit on a hot, summer day. But, when it comes to one of the watermelon's most synonymous preparations — the watermelon salad — the combinations of cheese and fruit can easily border on repetitive. Additions like mint and melon or a toss of Vidalia onion vinaigrette can help to break the mold, while one North African condiment, with its citrusy sweet spice, introduces your salad to something completely unexpected: Watermelon salad, meet harissa.

Originating in Tunisia, harissa is a red chili paste used across North Africa and the Middle East. There, the sauce is as common as ketchup is in the U.S. — where it's served with everything from bread to fast food. Only, that comparison doesn't come close to doing harissa's complexity justice. While recipes vary from region to region and household to household, the core of this sauce is a blend of hot peppers, garlic, salt, and lots of high-quality olive oil. Some recipes get more extravagant, with various amounts of everything from coriander, cumin, and dried mint, to citrus and rose while others utilize an additional step of fermentation.

Thinned out with extra olive oil and drizzled over your watermelon salad, all the harissa needs is a gentle mix and your favorite summer recipe gets a bright flare that will inspire everything else you toss into it.

Your go-to watermelon salad recipes get reimagined with harissa

Most watermelon salad recipes include watermelon, cheese, and maybe some fresh herbs. While distinctively Tunisian, harissa opens up your watermelon to an entirely new region of flavors. Sticking to the classic trio, the addition of harissa might inspire you to substitute the feta for another Middle Eastern cheese like halloumi. Served fresh or placed on the grill for those satisfying grill marks and served atop a thick-cut slice of fresh or grilled watermelon, a simple dollop or drizzle of the spicy condiment garnished with mint is about as simple — yet surprising — as this salad can get. Another idea is to serve the sliced watermelon on a thin bed of creamy labneh to keep things cool, although the harissa will bring instant heat.

Watermelon is far from the only produce enjoyed during the summertime, and just like a classic fattoush, a salad is the perfect application for using them all. Tomatoes, melons, onions, and cucumbers are more than permissible here, as are any stale pitas or bread you might have lying around for that nice bit of crunch. Whatever combination you might go for, you can serve the harissa-tossed salad as usual with a fork and knife or skewered for an even more unique, handheld way to enjoy your watermelon salads this summer — in which case a dipping sauce of olive oil and harissa will worthily take up that extra hand.