Watermelon Salad with Feta, Walnut & Nigella Seeds

The marriage of watermelon and salty, crumbly white cheese such as feta was made in heaven. Really! The sweetness of watermelon and saltines of the cheese in this watermelon salad create a very fascinating flavour combination.

But then there is a whole different layer of flavour coming from toasted nigella seeds and the crunch from soaked walnuts. I can’t tell you enough about this quick and easy watermelon recipe, you need to try it for yourself.

Ingredients for watermelon salad: Clockwise, Persian basil, nigella seeds, soaked walnuts and watermelon

The watermelon-salty white cheese flavour combination is so Persian. On hot summer days watermelon is eaten with cheese and flatbread wraps (we call our wraps loghmeh) as a quick snack or even light supper. The main meal of the day is usually lunch, a huge one.

Nigella seeds are tiny and black. They come from a plant (Nigella sativa) that is related to the beautiful blue love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) flower. You can find nigella seeds in most Asian groceries and the Asian or spice section of most supermarkets. They may be labelled as kalonji or black onion seeds.

Right: Nigella seeds (Nigella damascena), Left: Persian basil and unopened flower of Nigella sativa (love-in-a-mist)

In Iran we use nigella seeds to flavour cheeses, pickles and sprinkle them on flatbread before baking. The scent of nigella coming from the warm bread is intoxicating. According to the traditional Persian medicine nigella seeds have considerable health benefits including relieving stomach cramps caused by trapped wind, a very common problem with eating lots of fruit and veg.

I’ve also used Persian basil in my watermelon salad recipe. I wrote a post about Persian basil a couple of days ago. but you can use mint instead. Some Thai basil are very similar in flavour and may be more readily available.

My watermelon salad recipe also includes walnuts. Here is another Persian element. We love our walnuts and eat them rolled in flatbread with feta cheese (or any other salty white cheese such as Bulgarian cheese) with sweetened strong tea for breakfast and cook and bake with them a lot. The best way of eating walnuts is to soak them. Soaking removes much of the bitterness from the brown skin and gives an amazingly crunchy texture to the nuts. Fresh or soaked walnut sprinkled with salt is a delicacy often sold on the streets of Iranian cities.

Right: soaked walnuts, left: dry walnuts. Soaked walnuts are plumper, less bitter and have a great texture.

So there is no recipe really. Just follow the instructions below to prepare your ingredients and use as much or as little of each as you like. I like mine with lots of cheese. By the way, I find that Cheshire white cheese, available from supermarkets specialty cheese shops, is a great replacement for feta or Bulgarian cheese. Do give it a try if you can. It’s a gorgeous crumbly, salty cheese. Or use goats cheese, if you wish.

For a vegan version sprinkle some salt on watermelon cubes and use more walnuts. That’s how the Japanese eat their watermelon, with salt.


1. Soak walnuts in hot water for five minutes in a bowl. Rinse and cover with cold water and a pinch of salt. Let stand for a few minutes (it can soak for as long as half a day and will get even better with longer soaking). Rinse and drain.

2. Cut your watermelon into cubes or use a spoon to scoop out the red flesh and put in a bowl.

3. Cube or crumble the cheese over the watermelon. Add the walnut pieces and garnish with Persian basil or mint leaves.

4. Put your nigella seeds in a small pan and toast briefly on medium heat until fragrant. Sprinkle on the salad and enjoy!

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