Imaginative Ways With Enormous Fruit
On a hot summer day, a slice of sweet, crisp watermelon is as good as a drink for the thirsty. Laced with electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals, watermelon serves as nature’s sports drink, restoring comfort and balance to the heat stressed in just a few bites. Those large, hairy leaves and thick, twining stems reveal watermelon’s kinship with cucumbers, cantaloupe, and squash. As with other vining fruit, the youngest little stem tendrils are crunchy and faintly salty, equally tasty raw in salads or tossed into a stir fry.
Round or oblong, 90-pounders big enough for a volleyball beach team or handball-sized for one, watermelons boast meltingly sweet flesh and thick, juicy rinds. As a kid, I loved to eat watermelon at picnics, where my brothers and I often had impromptu contests to see how far we could spit the smooth, slippery seeds. These days, I toast them to make high-protein, high-fiber snacks when toasted. That rosy “meat” offers numerous antioxidant carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lycopene as well as a rush of sugary sweetness that makes a candy bar taste cloying.
Drop That Melon
In some places, watermelon is traditionally dropped to break into manageable chunks. Boom! If you prefer a tidier approach and have a long enough knife, you can slice up rounds or wedges that are a bit less drippy but just as succulent. Every summer I make a delicious watermelon gazpacho, but this year I’ve got a new love. Last week, my grandkids brought over a giant bowl of watermelon and another of perfectly ripe pineapple, leftovers from a recent birthday celebration. After deciding that they’d like to make watermelon soup, we wandered through the garden, choosing fresh herbs for their creations. Though both kids used similar herb mixtures, the proportions varied a lot. Their concoctions tasted quite different, and both were genuinely delicious. After the feast, we ended up with several quarts of rosy watermelon soup, which we froze into a dozen pink popsicles that vanished quickly.
Hot or cold, fruit soups are a summery staple in many parts of the world, from Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup to Norwegian Sot Suppe to Chinese and Indian versions that are lively with spices. On hot days, when the idea of turning on the stove is as unattractive as the idea of hot food, chilled soups are as refreshing as those pink popsicles and even tastier. If you have an immersion or stick blender, making such soups takes a bare few minutes (a food processor or even a regular blender work almost as well, but require clean up). Fresh fruit soups can be served immediately at room temperature or chilled. As always, the flavor improves with an overnight chilling, but a frothy cup of fresh soup is delightful too.
Watermelon Soup Or Salad
My grandkids used these ingredients in their soups, but you can of course experiment freely to suit your own taste preferences.
Rosy Watermelon Soup
4 cups chopped watermelon
1 cup chopped fresh pineapple
1-2 tablespoons fresh mint, shredded
1-2 tablespoons fresh fennel foliage
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon bam, shredded
1-2 teaspoons fresh lavender flowers
Combine all ingredients and blend to a slurry. Adjust herbs to taste and blend again. Serve at room temperature or chilled. Serves 3-4.
That Yummy Gazpacho
Sweet-hot and savory, this luscious watermelon gazpacho is refreshing on a sultry day. Season to taste, as some like it sweeter and others prefer to turn up the smoky heat. Flat Italian parsley can be substituted for the cilantro.
Spicy Watermelon Gazpacho
6 cups peeled, chopped watermelon with juices (1 medium)
1 large English cucumber, finely chopped (peeled and seeded if not an English type)
2 cups finely chopped sweet peppers
3/4 cup medium red onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup minced sweet basil (such as Genovese)
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro (reserve half for garnish)
1 lime, juiced, rind grated
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon smoked hot paprika
Combine first six ingredients in a large bowl, stir to blend and season to taste with lime juice, salt and paprika. Let stand 20 minutes, then adjust seasoning to taste. Remove 4 cups of the mixture, then use an immersion blender to puree the rest. Return the reserved 4 cups to the bowl, cover and refrigerate soup until ready to serve. Serve chilled or at room temperature, garnished with reserved cilantro. Serves 4-6.
A Spunky Salad
Mingling sweet and salty, rich and spicy flavors, watermelon salads are right at home with Caribbean or South American fare as well as Asian, African, or good old All-American picnic food.
Mediterranean Watermelon Salad
2 cups watermelon, balled or cut in 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup red onion, chopped
1/2 cup fresh feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, stemmed
1 small spicy-hot pepper, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 lemon, juiced
Combine first five ingredients, then add pepper, salt and lemon juice to taste. Let stand for at least 20 minutes. Serve at room temperature. Serves four.
Toasted Watermelon Seeds
1 cup black watermelon seeds
1 teaspoon avocado or olive oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
Rinse seeds, pat dry and toss with oil, then place in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 350 degrees F until crisp (7-8 minutes). Makes 1 cup.