Fire Life

(Not Your Mama’s) Watermelon Salad

By Ryan McKay

Watermelon signifies all that is glorious about summertime. Abundant; inexpensive; and, most importantly, refreshing, this fruit from the gourd family is hitting the sweet spot for most every American this time of year to help us cope with the heat. And hot it is!

As we’ve all been down the tried and true path of eating it straight from the rind, I wanted to present a path less traveled. Sure, many of us have had watermelon in salads a plenty, be it with other fruit or with feta and mint, but this recipe stretches what we are comfortable with when it comes to our shared safe zone with this red vessel. Soy, chili, garlic, cilantro, and pistachio … can it get any stranger? But I haven’t led you down a path I haven’t already walked myself, so trust that I won’t lead you astray. Come join me down this different but fun path that is not your Mama’s watermelon salad.

A few after the fire critiques: You can skip salting the melon and cucumber (it needs to be an English cucumber) if you are in a pinch for time; however, salting really helps strengthen their inherent flavors, so just do it. Chili garlic sauce can be substituted with Sambal (less garlic) or Sriracha (less heat) if you can’t find it. Pistachio is THE go-to nut for this recipe, but more price friendly almonds are good as well.

This recipe was inspired by Kim Severson.


Serves 6-8 as a side



4 cups watermelon, ½-inch cubes

3 cups English cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced into ¼-inch strips

3 Tbsp. lime juice

2 Tbsp. soy sauce

1 Tbsp. chili garlic sauce

⅓ cup cilantro, chopped

⅓ cup pistachios, chopped

Pepper (be aggressive) and salt (to taste)





Large and Small Bowl

Baking Sheet

Metal Rack




  1. Combine watermelon and cucumber and place on rack over a baking sheet or colander.
  2. Salt generously and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.
  3. Remove and transfer to a large bowl.
  4. In a smaller bowl, add lime juice, soy sauce, and chili garlic sauce and whisk to combine. Pour over cucumber and watermelon.
  5. Add cilantro, pistachio, and pepper and salt to taste, and toss gently.
  6. Serve cold or at room temperature. Indulge!


Ryan McKay is a 13-year fire service veteran and a firehouse cook from Atlanta, Georgia. His goal is to bring the fast-paced lifestyle of the fire service with the slow-paced art of cultivating family and crew through the tool that is food. He has made an appearance on NBC’s primetime show “Food Fighters,” is a co-founder of the Metro Atlanta EMS Conference, and works intimately with the SafePath Child Advocacy Center.