Healthy Thai-Style Salad of Grilled Eggplant, Tofu, and Watermelon – Recipe


I'm calling this a Thai-style salad, but it could just as easily be Vietnamese or Cambodian. It was ultra-refreshing, and because the dressing is oil-free, very low calorie as well. This kind of salad can work either as part of a larger Southeast Asian spread, or by itself as a light meal.

I've seen watermelon used in all sorts of interesting savory dishes lately. Compressed, juiced, pickled, "sashimi", grilled. You name it, folks are realizing it has applications way beyond a big chunk dribbling juice down your chin on a summer day (or filled with vodka, but that's another story). In this salad, it provides a beautiful sweet counterpoint to the puckery lime dressing and fresh herbs.

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Like many of the salads I've published, you can think of this this dish more as a basis for improvisation than necessarily a formula to follow. Change the lettuce, use tempeh instead of tofu, add rice noodles, use different herbs, add roasted peanuts … mix it up with what you have on hand or what looks good at the market and you can eat this way frequently without getting bored.

I grilled both the tofu and the eggplant, which contributes a bit of smoky flavor, but you can of course do them in a frying pan or in the oven just as well. By the way, Ben at Accidental Hedonist had a great background article on tofu recently.

Thai-Style Salad of Grilled Eggplant, Tofu, and Watermelon
Serves 8 as a side dish or about 3 as a light meal
Vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free

For the lime dressing:

  • 6 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • salt to taste
  • several grinds of black pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients and allow to rest.
  2. Adjust seasoning just before serving.

For the salad:

  • 3 small eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/2" planks
  • 1 container of extra-firm tofu (14-16 ounces) sliced into 8 planks
  • soy sauce
  • oil for grilling
  • 1/2 cup Trader Joe's mandarin orange muscat champagne vinegar (great stuff!) or: juice of one orange, 2 teaspoons sugar, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 head green leaf lettuce, chopped medium, washed and thoroughly dried
  • optional: 1 cup mixed microgreens (Trader Joe's sells a nice package, surprisingly), or other flavorful greens – arugula for example
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced about 1/8" thick
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage
  • jalapeno, serrano, or other chilis to taste, seeded and sliced thin
  • 4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
  • large handful each of fresh mint, fresh basil (preferably Thai basil), cilantro
  • 4 green onions, white parts only, thinly sliced
  • sea salt
  1. Preheat a grill to a moderate temperature with no leaping flames.
  2. Marinate the tofu in a bit of soy sauce.
  3. Lightly oil the eggplant on both sides and rub in a bit of salt. Grill on both sides until tender, being careful not to burn. When you take it off, allow to cool slightly, cut into bite sized chunks, and toss while still warm with the orange vinegar.
  4. Lightly oil the tofu and grill on both sides until nice marks develop. Slice each plank into three bites.
  5. To serve, arrange the bed of lettuce with all other ingredients scattered on top – either on a family sized platter or individual salad plates. Drizzle the dressing evenly over the top and finish with a bit of sea salt.

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, September 8th, 2008 in Gluten-Free or modifiable, Recipes, Salads, Vegan or Modifiable.

13 Responses to “Healthy Thai-Style Salad of Grilled Eggplant, Tofu, and Watermelon – Recipe”

  1. Reply
    September 9, 2008 at 12:41 am #

    This sound incredible, such a unique combo of flavors! Stumbled 🙂

  2. Reply
    September 9, 2008 at 1:45 pm #

    I’m going ga-ga over this salad. Very nice!

    Saved to Delicious.

  3. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    September 9, 2008 at 1:48 pm #

    I’m glad you like it, and thanks for the saves and stumbles guy! That stuff really helps.

  4. Reply
    September 10, 2008 at 7:08 am #

    Wow, this looks amazing. With the last bits of summer left, you made a stunner salad. I like the addition of watermelon and the fresh herbs.

  5. Reply
    September 10, 2008 at 7:17 pm #

    That looks awesome. I’d swap mushrooms for the eggplant though. The orange muscat vinegar from TJ’s is to die for!! Yum!

  6. Reply
    September 12, 2008 at 11:21 pm #

    The salad looks delicious!!! I do love a good spiked watermelon once in a while too… way too many memories of teenage summertimes from (VERY!!) long ago there….

  7. Reply
    September 27, 2008 at 2:59 pm #

    We faked this entirely, left out the lettuce, subbed mango for watermelon, added mushrooms, and didn’t grill (used a grill pan on the stove), and it still came out wonderfully. Very inspirational, and a really great salad that works well as leftovers (if you leave out the lettuce, nothing to get soggy!).

    Thank you!!

  8. Reply
    October 2, 2008 at 8:06 am #

    This sounds great! I made a greek style salad with watermelon in it recently and was so pleased with the result (link to I had never had watermelon in that context, but it just seems to belong now, just as easily as it does on a hot summer picnic in big, juicy wedges. I’ll bookmark this sure.

  9. Reply
    October 9, 2008 at 8:01 am #

    I’ve seen watermelon used in savory foods, but have yet to try it like this. Sounds delish! I really like that oil-free dressing, very cool idea.

  10. Reply
    July 18, 2009 at 2:02 am #

    this is a really great salad! I love your site (just happily stumbled upon it) and I made this salad several times – throwing in different fruits like mangos, peaches etc. it doesn’t really matter – it all works with the lovely dressing.
    Since I’m living in Europe, there’s no Trader Joe available here, but your dressing is wonderful!

  11. Reply
    Michael Natkin
    July 18, 2009 at 10:30 am #

    Thanks Robyn! I'm glad you reminded me of it, I haven't made that yet this summer. Good suggestions for alternate fruits too.

  12. Reply
    December 13, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    I made this salad for a recent dinner party and everyone loved the combination of eggplant, watermelon and lime dressing. Will definitely make again. It looks so special but easy to make.

  13. Reply
    May 8, 2013 at 3:43 am #

    I never tried grilled eggplant with melon though grilled eggplant is one of my favorite. But I would like to try this out and recommend if I love it. Thanks 🙂

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