Heirloom Tomato, Watermelon, and Fennel Salad

in Recipes

Happy First Day of Summer & Father’s Day to you! I apologize for neglecting VK for the past few weeks or so; moving across states and up the coast is one heck of a process. Not to mention, visiting Ikea 3 days in a row can really take it out of a girl. But I’m back at it – cooking in my tiny white kitchen, living in my sweet little apartment in NW Portland, and prepping for the start of graduate school to receive my Master’s in Nutrition. Oh yeah, and it’s summer, so I am one happy girl.

Oh, Summer. Let’s say hello to the start of weekend cookouts with friends, grilling every meal possible and eating outdoors, taking weekend road trips, lingering in the sunshine, shopping the farmer’s market, and never turning on the oven. Or, if you’re like my family and friends in Arizona – hibernating until the 110° F days go away.

Oh, how happy I am to be in Portland for this time of the year. And what a beautiful place Portland is in the summertime! There are farmer’s markets everywhere the eye can see, and one just three short blocks from my little apartment. Not to mention there’s bright tree lined streets, people bicycling everywhere, happy dogs, and sunshine for days. Side note – does it really rain here?

So, this is a salad summer-ified with all sorts of goodness. I know the ingredients may sound a bit odd paired together, but trust me – they work. A bit of salty, a little sweet, some bitter and peppery, and a whole lot of texture will make your taste buds incredibly happy. As seasonal produce has begun flooding the farmer’s markets, we’re taking advantage of the beautiful heirloom tomatoes and juicy watermelon happening right now, along with a whole bulb of fennel and arugula for a peppery kick.

Go heirloom, or go home.

Let’s tomato talk. An heirloom tomato is called as such because it adheres to rigorous farming standards, or something like that. According to tomato experts, Craig LeHoullier and Carolyn Male, heirlooms are a variety of tomato that have been passed down through generations of family or are commercial open-pollinated varieties that were introduced before 1940. There are even “mystery heirlooms” and created heirlooms according to the two experts. So what’s the big deal with heirlooms? Firstly, they taste absolutely so much better than your standard run-of-the-mill beefsteak tomato in supermarkets. The tomatoes you find at grocery markets have been bred to achieve certain qualities aimed at pleasing the seller and consumer: uniform red color and size, longer shelf-life, thicker skin in order to transport the tomatoes farther and with less bruises, shaped for mechanical harvest, and so on. Heirlooms, on the other hand, can be incredibly beautiful and ugly at the same time: they’re lumpy, bumpy, big, small, blemished, rainbow-hued, fuzzy, and all sorts of eccentric.

So, where can you find these glorious tomatoes? Head to your local farmer’s market to get the jewels. If you find heirlooms in grocery markets, check to see if they came from a local source – not Texas if you live in Maine.

When can you find heirloom tomatoes? Summer months, only – unless your climate (wonderfully) permits heirlooms at other times of the year. Avoid tomatoes at all cost in winter months. Sorry, but they taste like shoes.

What kind of heirlooms should you get? There are no rules when it comes to picking heirlooms, as each variety tastes uniquely different from the next. I like to gather up a big bag of all sorts of varieties and see what I get. It’s sort of like nature’s Skittles.

What else can I make with heirloom tomatoes? May I suggest my tomato, peach, and kale salad, my cucumber, beet, and tomato salad, or my grilled heirloom tomato bruschetta? Heirlooms are also delicious in a caprese salad with fresh basil and mozzarella, on a simple sandwich with hummus and herbs, with pesto pizza, or simply eaten on their own with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt.

So there you have it. It’s summer, I love Portland, and we should all eat as many heirloom tomatoes as we possibly can before the season is gone.

Vibrant heirloom tomatoes + sweet watermelon + peppery arugula + licorice-like fennel + simple and delectable dressing = summer on a plate, and an ode to heirlooms.

Heirloom Tomato, Fennel, & Watermelon Salad

Serves 2 as a main dish, or 4 as a side

1 ½ pounds heirloom tomatoes
Small bulb of fennel, cut in half and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
½ cup chopped fennel fronds
2 big handfuls of arugula
1 cup chopped watermelon

2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper


Prepare the dressing first. Simply whisk together lemon juice, ACV, olive oil, salt, and pepper and set aside.

In a large bowl or platter add arugula, chopped fennel and fronds, and watermelon. Slice the tomatoes in a variety of ways for fun visual texture – some in circular rounds, and others in wedges. Add the tomatoes to the salad and drizzle the whole thing with dressing. Gently toss salad and eat immediately. Enjoy!


If you’d like to make this salad a main summer dish, feel free to add in more protein with cooked quinoa, cannellini beans, or a piece of wild fish.

Other additions include: goat cheese, a handful of chopped basil, and avocado.

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