Watermelon Poke Recipe

So good! This watermelon poke recipe is for any of you who love the idea of poke or poke bowls, but don't eat fish for whatever reason. With a feisty sesame, cayenne, soy sauce dressing.

Watermelon Poke

Poke is a much-loved, traditional, raw fish preparation, long popular in Hawaii. Fishermen would season bits of their catch, and snack on it, while working. Poke (pronounced poh-kay) has exploded in popularity, well beyond Hawaii, in recent years. The poke bowl functions as ambassador in poke spots around the world, in thousands of different guises. This watermelon poke recipe is for any of you who love the idea of poke or poke bowls, but don't eat fish for whatever reason - diet, religion, etc.

Watermelon Poke Recipe

Watermelon Poke

This watermelon poke recipe is one of the main components I like to use when assembling vegetarian or vegan poke bowls at home. In the Hawaiian language, poke means to slice or cut, which is why this is called watermelon poke. Even though there is no fish involved. I love eating it when the weather is warm. Watermelon poke is light, clean, bright, vibrant, and beautiful. I'm posting this now, and will follow up in the coming days with different ways to assemble a vegetarian poke bowl made with this watermelon poke.

Choosing the Right Watermelon

The good news is you don't actually need the perfect melon here. This recipe is quite forgiving, and the sauce is quite assertive. The main thing you want to want to pay attention to? Whether or not your melon is seedless. You're after a seedless water melon. This is key. It can be red, it can be yellow, just so long as it's seedless. This way you can maintain cube-like cuts.

Watermelon Poke Recipe

Watermelon Poke Sauce

Related to watermelon poke, sauce is king. Getting it right is key. I've tried a range of sauces and marinades to season the watermelon here, and always fall back on the sauce I've used for years in the Otsu recipe you'll find in Super Natural Cooking. It is the perfect mix of soy sauce, sesame, with a kiss of cayenne, and hint of lemon. It compliments the sweetness of the watermelon perfectly. You marinate the watermelon for a few hours (or overnight), the melon cubes soak up the flavor, and seem to firm up on the texture front.

Serving Ideas

You can enjoy watermelon poke, simply prepared, with just a sprinkling of toppings, as pictured here. Or, you can have it as a component in preparations like poke bowls, or wraps. I like it alongside rice, or on top of a bed of rice noodles.

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Watermelon Poke

3.77 from 76 votes

If you have plain rice vinegar, go ahead and use that. I just tend to keep brown rice vinegar on hand.

  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Fresh ginger, cut into a 1-inch cube, peeled, and grated
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned (brown) rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (low-sodium is ok)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 3 pound seedless watermelon (small melon)
Make the Ginger Sesame Soy Sauce
  1. Make the sauce by combining the zest, ginger, honey, cayenne, and salt in a food processor (or use a hand blender) and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and soy suace, and pulse to combine. With the machine running, drizzle in the oils.

Prepare the Watermelon
  1. Slice the watermelon into cubes that are roughly 1/2-inch - 3/4-inch in width. Transfer to a large bowl or container. Pour the sauce over the top of the watermelon and gently toss. Refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight. If you remember to toss the watermelon once or twice along the way, even better.

  2. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the watermelon poké to a serving bowl or platter, shaking off extra sauce. Reserve any remaining sauce to use as seasoning (for a poke bowl, or to season rice, etc.). Sprinkle with sliced green onions, and sesame seeds.

Prep Time
15 mins
Total Time
15 mins
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Recipe Rating


Great recipe! I made double and stored it in the fridge to top my poke (I don’t use the sauce left over from the watermelon)5 stars


This turned out amazing! Fantastic balance of flavors and I assume will even be better tomorrow! For fish lovers I marinated the recipe as is with some black seaweed as well and it gave a wonderful additional umami.5 stars


I’ve just made this and stashed it in the fridge. It already tastes so good! I can’t wait to have it for dinner tonight. Thank you!5 stars


Hi there !
I want to do this recipe so badly but my grocery store doesn’t have watermelon 🙁 do you think mangoes could do the trick? Have a nice day and thanks for this beautiful recipe!


    Ooh! I’m not sure, but I suspect it might be good. Or pineapple?!

    Heidi Swanson

Oh, I forgot to add that I swapped out the honey for agave to make it vegan-friendly and added just a light sprinkling of powdered nori in the marinade, but otherwise followed your recipe. So delicious!5 stars


This was insane! I’ve been vegan for years and am allergic to most fish, so I was not trying to replicate fish in any way. I simply thought that this would be a fun way to make something fresh and unique while using up a subpar watermelon. I made it to accompany delicious homemade poke bowls.

My boyfriend – who absolutely detests seitan and other vegan meats, and who is convinced that nothing could ever replicate the taste of meat products – tasted this and told me that it tastes nearly exactly like sashimi grade fish.

While it was great the first day, leaving the cubes in the marinade overnight took the flavours and textures to another level. The grainy watermelon became smooth and the flavours really popped. Will absolutely be making this again!5 stars


I’ve made this twice now, to raves and distribution of the recipe to everyone. It completely steals the show from the rest of the meal! We aren’t even vegetarian, and we love tuna poke. But this is really special.

I did not have toasted sesame oil so used regular sesame oil. Also, I’m lazy, don’t have a food processor, and the hand blender didn’t really work. I simply dumped everything except watermelon and oil (drizzled the oil in last) into the regular blender, and that seemed to work fine.

Plenty of leftover sauce is delicious on rice. This is really a triumph!5 stars


    Love this Theano! So happy you’re into it. And I’m all about resourceful tweaks!! 🙂

    Heidi Swanson

Made this today as the highlight to my poke bowl dinner. I LOVED it! The watermelon stays crunchy and juicy; the sauce is perfect. My bowl included spicy tofu cubes, sliced cucumber, avocado slices, shredded greens, sprinkle of sesame seeds and green onion on top. Fun, to make and to eat.

The only thing I couldn’t picture: how did you “process until smooth” the lemon zest, ginger, honey, cayenne and salt? I don’t have any implement (including my hand blender) that can turn that small amount of non-liquid ingredients into a smooth mixture of any kind. I ended up adding the lemon juice, vinegar and soy sauce just to have sufficient volume and liquidity to process the sauce. Everything seemed to turn out as described, though. Plenty of sauce, which was very tasty on the brown rice in the bowl. Thanks for this unusual and beautiful recipe.5 stars


Heidi – this loves and sounds wonderful (and not just because watermelon is one of my favourite foods ever!). Definitely putting this on my list of things to make before watermelon season is over!

I find it intriguing how certain foods can taste fishy while being vegetarian. E.g. did you ever try the David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce? For some reason it really reminds me of the flavour of tuna!


    Thanks! And, no. Intriguing…I’ll look into it. Wondering if it has a seaweed base.

    Heidi Swanson

The watermelon poke was a highlight of the dragon bowls I created for dinner for 30 people this week at the Ravens Roost co-housing community we live at here in Anchorage, AK.

After the first tentative nibbles neighbors came back for seconds and thirds! No one had heard of anything like it.

I can rely on your blog for fun, healthy recipes to share with my friends and neighbors here. Thanks bunches for helping me introduce more tasty plant based meals to our community.5 stars

Cheri S

    Love this note Cheri! Thanks for taking the time to write. Thrilled that people were into it! xx!

    Heidi Swanson

This is fantastic! What a creative idea!

Tori Cooper

I am really intrigued by this recipe/idea. I love watermelon a lot (I have stopped counting how many watermelons I have eaten entirely by myself this summer) and this looks like a great recipe to add to my repertoire. I can see how the watermelon would even firm up a bit after marinating thanks to the vinegar – I guess that would work a bit like pickling it?

This vegetarian riff on fish dish also made me think of the ginger scallion sauce from David Chang’s Bo Ssam recipe (https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/momofuku-ginger-scallion-sauce-50175120) – entirely vegetarian yet somehow ends up tasting fishy, almost like tuna.


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