Chilled, grilled, sweet & spicy

Juicy, delicious and sweet . . . watermelon is the official fruit of summer

Served with any variety fruit in the carved half-shell

Juicy, delicious and sweet . . . watermelon is the official fruit of summer

Summer would not be summer without watermelon. There is nothing that quenches your thirst on a hot summer day better than the subtly crunchy, cold, sweet, juicy watermelon. With the melon season in full swing, this ruby hued gem will make its appearance on camping trips, picnic tables and backyard gatherings.

The most common way to serve the watermelon is to simply chill and slice or cut into cubes for a quick cold snack or dessert. Some may add a sprinkling of salt to coax out a tad bit more of the fruit’s tropical sweetness.

But the versatility of this juicy fruit is often overlooked and unexplored.

Although watermelon is great on its own, it is a great ingredient for more complex foods that benefit from the hint of watermelon flavour and the water-based juiciness of the fruit. It has great ability to liven savoury dishes. The key is to balance the fruit’s sweetness with something salty, bitter, acidic or spicy.

Watermelon is delicious when paired with salty cheeses, bitter salad greens, acidic vinegars and spicy seasonings such as hot curry powder. It’s also a refreshing complement to smoky-flavoured grilled meats and seafood.

Here are just a few ways to enjoy the popular summer fruit.

As a fruit bowl — Watermelon is an excellent choice for those with artistic flair who enjoy making edible sculptures. It is a great fruit to use for fruit bowls for parties for the holidays or any festive occasion. The green color of the watermelon goes with virtually any table décor. It is fun to watch the reactions of friends and relatives when you have a watermelon bowl filled with delicious fruit to enjoy during a party.

On a sandwich — Consider adding a piece of watermelon to your sandwiches. You wouldn’t think that watermelon would slice to fit your favourite sandwich rolls. Sprinkle some chilli powder over both sides of each watermelon slice, and then use these to top your sandwich. This works best with chicken or pork, but you can try it with other meats as well.

In salads — Watermelon salad is a light healthy treat when created with the freshest ingredients and served over your favourite greens. And, what kid doesn’t love watermelon? And you can sneak a few greens into their meal in the process! Watermelon complements most vegetable including spinach cucumbers, red onions, tomatoes, mint leaves and avocados. Takes the idea one step further by mixing watermelon juice into the dressing, creating a sweet-tangy vinaigrette that’s naturally low in saturated fat.

On Skewers — Shrimp and watermelon are a wonderful flavour combination. This simple dish is great as an appetizer or light lunch. Start with a few wooden skewers, thread cooked shrimp and watermelon cubes on the skewer.

I like to warm my shrimp on the grill a bit. Place skewers on a serving plate and drizzle with Thai peanut sauce or ginger vinaigrette.

As A Side Dish — Offer watermelon wedges as a side dish; they brighten the plate and are light and healthy. Serve cooled watermelon chunks on the side dish to balance the flavour of spicy meat.

Looking for a warm side dish? Barbecue some watermelon wedges brushed with honey. The honey caramelizes on the fruit slices during a quick browning on the grill and the cooked wedges are then drizzled with a spicy garlic chilli sauce.

As desserts —For dessert, angel food cake served in a small pool of watermelon puree makes a nice presentation, or try using the puree with ice cream sundaes or frozen yogurts.

Summer Drinks — Because they are 90 per cent water, watermelon is a great addition to summer drinks. The pulpy texture adds thickness to summer slushes and tropical punches. For an adult-only party, consider combining liquor with watermelon. This is perfect for backyard BBQ’s, picnics, and camping. Use any liquor you like.

Begin with seedless watermelon, cut a small hole in it and press the tip of a funnel in the melon. Pour liquor into the funnel a little at a time, refilling as it seeps into the melon. Allow the melon to marinate at least a few hours before slicing and serving.

How to select a good watermelon

• Consider the shape of the melon. A good watermelon has a symmetrical shape. It doesn’t matter if the fruit is round or oval in shape, as long s the shape is symmetrical.

• It is also a good idea to press the skin of the watermelon in many different spots to test for firmness. Good watermelons will not have soft spots.

• While looking at the exterior color of a melon isn’t sufficient to determine if a melon will be good, dark green melons tend to be sweeter than those that are lighter in color.

• When you pick up the melon, pay attention to how heavy it is. Watermelons are more than 90 percent water, so the most juicy melons are going to be the ones that seem very heavy for their size.

• Look on the bottom of the melon. You will find a discoloured spot where the melon was in contact with the ground while it was growing. If this spot is light green, the melon is not yet ripe. If the spot is a yellowish-white color, the melon is probably ripe.

• You can also tell if a watermelon is ripe by thumping it, if you know what you are listening for. When you thump the side of a ripe watermelon, it will sound as if the fruit is hollow. If you hear a thud or a tone that is high in pitch, you’re dealing with a fruit that isn’t ripe.

Watermelon chunks, watermelon slices and watermelon balls are all terrific snacks on a summer day.

But if you are looking for something new and different, see what else can be done with the watermelon. It not only adds variety to palette but makes the meals more interesting.

Avocado Watermelon Spinach Salad

2 large avocados – peeled, pitted and diced

4 cups cubed watermelon

4 cups fresh spinach leaves

1 cup balsamic vinaigrette salad dressing

In a salad bowl, toss together the avocado, watermelon cubes and spinach. Stir in salad dressing just before serving.

Easy Watermelon Slush

3 cups diced watermelon

2 Tbs. lime juice

1 Tbs. sugar

1 cup crushed ice

½ cup water

Dash of black pepper or cayenne — optional flavour twist for heat-lovers

Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor and blend into a frosty slush.

Barbecued Watermelon Wedges

1 tbsp lime zest

1/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup honey, divided

2 tsp garlic chilli sauce

Pinch salt

1 medium sized watermelon

1 tbsp fresh chopped cilantro

Preheat grill to high. In bowl, whisk together, lime zest, juice, 3 tbsp (45 mL) of the honey, garlic chilli sauce and salt.

Cut watermelon into 1-inch (2.5 cm) thick wedges. Lightly drizzle each side with remaining honey and place on grill. Grill until just browned, about 3 minutes per side. Place watermelon slices on a plate and drizzle with lime dressing. Garnish with cilantro.

Madhu Badoni is a Red Deer-based freelance food writer. She can be reached at madhubadoni@gmail.com

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