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Thursday, July 11, 2013 03:32 pm

Wonderful watermelon

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It’s the very essence of summer. As a kid, I’d hang on to the green rind as I plowed my way through a half-moon slice or wedge, or sometimes even a canoe-shaped lateral hunk, hunched over so that the juice wouldn’t drip on my clothes – which it inevitably did, regardless. That was pretty much the only way I knew of eating watermelon, excepting the perfectly formed balls that appeared in mom’s fruit salad.

One of my first forays into fancy food was carving watermelons into baskets to hold that fruit salad, even becoming somewhat notorious among friends and family for elaborately scalloped rims and handles, complete with white lacy scrollwork scraped from the melons’ green rind.

It’s been decades since I’ve made one of those baskets. But I’ve certainly eaten lots of watermelon. My mother has taken to cutting watermelons into 2-3-inch chunks, cutting down on the refrigerator space needed, and providing a nutritious, readily accessible snack for kids as well as adults.

For an outstandingly flavorful melon, the best way to enjoy it is still “au natural.” But watermelon has other delicious uses: as a delectable alternative to traditional tomato-based gazpacho, in a starring role in salads (common in the Middle East), and to grill.

No, that wasn’t a misprint. I initially discovered grilled watermelon via longtime friend, Jacksonville native, and outstanding chef, Thad Morrow, whose Champaign restaurant, Bacaro, can hold its own against big name, big city establishments. Even though I’ve been making, eating, and teaching and writing about grilled watermelon for years, the idea of grilled watermelon still amuses me; not least because it’s so good. The texture is transformed into something almost meat-like. I hope you like it (and are as intrigued by it) as much as I.

WATERMELON GAZPACHO
WATERMELON GAZPACHO
For the gazpacho base:

  • 4 c. watermelon seeded if necessary, plus 1 cup seeded and cut into small dice
  • Zest from 1 large lime, about 1 T., not packed
  • Juice from 1 large lime, at least 2 T., or more to taste
  • 1 tsp. kosher or sea salt or more to taste
  • 2 cloves (about 2 tsp.) very fresh garlic (you may want to use less if it’s later in the season)
  • 1/4 c. minced white parts of scallions/green onions, green parts reserved
  • 1 T. chopped seeded jalapeno pepper (optional)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the garnishes:
  • 1 c. seeded, fully ripe, finely diced tomato
  • 1 c. unpeeled, seedless, finely diced cucumber
  • 1/2 c. sweet yellow or orange pepper, finely diced
  • 1 c. seeded, finely diced watermelon
  • 1 ripe avocado, finely diced, about 1 c.
  • 2 T. minced cilantro or parsley
  • 1/3 scallion greens, very thinly sliced on a diagonal

Purée the 4 cups watermelon along with the lime zest and juice, salt, garlic, 1/4 cup minced white scallion parts, jalapeo (if using) and black pepper in a blender or food processor. Transfer to a large nonmetallic bowl. Taste for seasoning, remembering that the addition of garnishes will change/dilute the gazpacho’s flavor profile slightly.

Refrigerate until the gazpacho is thoroughly chilled and the flavors have melded together, 1 hour or more. At this point, it can be made and stored, refrigerated, for up to 3 days ahead.

Just before serving, whisk or shake the gazpacho to incorporate the liquid and solids, which will have separated during refrigeration. Gently stir in all the garnishes except the cilantro and scallion greens. Serve in chilled individual bowels or glasses such as margarita or martini glasses, which will show off the gazpacho’s beautiful color, sprinkle with the cilantro and scallion greens.

Alternatively, you can present the garnishes on a platter, to be added as each diner prefers. In general, it’s better to serve with the garnishes already added, but if someone has an allergy or strong dislike (“I absolutely hate cilantro!”), separately passed garnishes/condiments may be your best bet.

As with more traditional gazpachos, watermelon gazpacho can be “bumped up a notch” to make a refreshingly light summer entrée with the addition of crabmeat and/or shrimp. Serve with a good loaf of bread that’s been split in half, spread with butter, minced fresh garlic, and a hint of lemon juice, then grilled cut side down or run under a broiler until golden, and you have a perfect summer meal.

Grilled watermelon kebabs.
PHOTO BY DAVID HINE


GRILLED WATERMELON

  • Seedless watermelon
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing the watermelon
Cut the watermelon in halves and then into slices about 1 1/2-inch thick. Cut the slices into quarters, thirds or halves depending on the size of the wedges. You should have pie-shaped (or half-moon shaped) wedges using 1 piece per person. Cut off the rind and discard.

Lightly sprinkle the wedges on both sides with the salt. Stand the wedges on their edges on a rack over a sink or pan and let drain for 1/2 hour.

Preheat the grill to high.

After the watermelon has drained, rinse each piece under cold running water. Place each piece between 2 folded paper towels and gently but firmly press to remove excess water. You should stop when you feel the watermelon begin to crunch.

Brush the watermelon lightly on both sides with the olive oil. Grill over high heat until grill marks have formed and the melon is slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Remove to a platter and let stand.

GRILLED WATERMELON KEBABS WITH YOGURT AND FRESH MINT DIPPING SAUCE AND FETA
For the dipping sauce:
  • 1 c. Greek-style yogurt
  • 1/3 c. loosely packed minced fresh mint
  • 3 T. finely minced scallion
  • Freshly ground black pepper and fresh squeezed lemon juice to taste
  • Grilled watermelon, above
  • Crumbled feta cheese
Combine the dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl and let stand for at least 30 minutes so the flavors will meld. If making further ahead, refrigerate the sauce.

Cut the grilled watermelon into 2-inch cubes and thread 1 or 2 pieces onto a bamboo skewer.

Put the dipping sauce in the center of a platter and arrange the watermelon skewers around the sauce. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

GRILLED WATERMELON WITH A SALAD OF ARUGULA AND RASPBERRY VINIAGRETTE

For the dressing:
  • 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 T. raspberry vinegar
  • 1 T. sugar or honey, optional, depending on the sweetness of the vinegar and your taste
  • 2 T.-1/4 c. minced sweet onion such as Vidalia or Walla Walla
  • Kosher or sea salt if needed
For the salad:
  • 1 large handful washed and dried baby arugula or mixed spring lettuces per person
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste, plus kosher or sea salt if needed
  • Grilled watermelon, above, 1 piece per serving
For garnish, optional:
  • Fresh red raspberries
  • Toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) for garnish, about 1 T. per serving
Combine the ingredients for the dressing. Whisk to combine, and taste. If your vinegar is already sweetened, you may not need to add sugar. Likewise, salt may or may not be necessary.

Put the arugula or lettuce in a large bowl and toss with enough dressing to just barely coat the greens. Refrigerate leftover dressing. Season with pepper and salt to taste. Alternatively, you can pass a pepper mill at the table so that each diner can grind pepper on the salad to their own taste.

Divide the greens among individual salad plates. Place a piece of the grilled watermelon on top of the greens and sprinkle with the pepitas and a few fresh raspberries. Serve immediately.

To toast pepitas: Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add pepitas and cook, stirring constantly, until pepitas just begin to turn golden and start to pop.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.
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