Summer Star

You can produce juicy watermelons with a little seed, soil and sunshine.

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Biting into an ice-cold slice of watermelon is a succulent summertime pleasure. As its sweet juice rolls over the tongue and down the chin, it makes the mouth water for more. Such a simple reminder of what seed, soil and sunshine can produce.

Eating the melon is the high point of a process that begins with the hunt. Finding the perfect melon requires a detective-like inspection. Some like to thump their melons. Others pick them up for "weight," then turn them from side to side while scrutinizing the shells for blemishes. The process is as individual as whether to salt or not to salt.

But there's more to watermelon than just taste. Its vivid colors and versatility make it a perfect party dish. It can be carved, skewered, chopped, diced and even liquefied without losing its ruby-red hue. A yellow watermelon, new on the market, has the same flavor. Pairing the two in a recipe would make a colorful contrast.

As for the seeds, even that's been taken care of. Seedless watermelons are abundant, though for many it just wouldn't be summer without one seed-spitting contest a season.

These recipes are provided by the National Watermelon Promotion Board (www.watermelon.org).

Watermelon Pyramids

Ingredients:

8 (1-inch-thick) slices watermelon
4 (1-inch-thick) slices pound cake
4 (1-inch-thick) slices peeled kiwifruit
quick caramel sauce (recipe follows)
dark and white chocolate shavings for garnish
star fruit as garnish, if desired

Preparation:

Cut four 4-by-4-inch and four 2-by-2-inch pieces of watermelon. Cut four 3-by-3-inch pieces of pound cake. Cut four 1-by-1-inch pieces of kiwifruit.

On each of four dessert plates, place one piece of the 4-by-4-inch watermelon squares. Then, on each square, place a slice of pound cake, topped by a 2-by-2-inch watermelon piece. Top each with a piece of kiwifruit.

Drizzle the warm caramel sauce over the pyramids and then garnish with the chocolate shavings and, if desired, with a section of star fruit. Serve immediately.

Serving size: 4

-- Chef Harry Schwartz.

Quick Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

4 tbsp. butter
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preparation:

In a 1- or 2-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and brown sugar, and then stir in the vanilla and cream. Bring to a simmer and adjust the heat to maintain a slow simmer. Simmer 5 minutes and serve immediately.

-- Chef Harry Schwartz

Chicken Salad with Watermelon and Peaches

Ingredients:

3 cups chopped cooked chicken
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 tsp. dried dill leaf or 1 tbsp. fresh-snipped
juice from one lemon
salt and pepper to taste
2 peaches, seeded and chopped
2 cups chopped seeded watermelon

Preparation:

Mix together chicken, yogurt, mayonnaise, dill and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, gently mix in peach and watermelon pieces. Serve over greens or inside split mini-baguette.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

-- Chef Harry Schwartz

Toasted Jalapeno Tomatillo and Watermelon Salsa

Ingredients:

8 to 10 medium tomatillos
2 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 jalapeno peppers, or to taste, seeded and chopped
1 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. mild chili powder
1 cup tomato sauce or puree
1 cup seeded watermelon chunks
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Peel off parchment-like coating on tomatillos and rinse; cut into quarters.

Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions for a few minutes, and then add the tomatillos, garlic and jalapenos. Sauté until the onions and garlic begin to brown. Reduce heat to low, and sprinkle the cumin and chili powder over the pan. Stir in the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer.

Remove from heat. Cool. Place in a blender or food processor with the watermelon and puree. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 3 cups.

-- Chef Harry Schwartz.

Mad's Watermelon Sangria

Ingredients:

1 bottle red wine (preferably Spanish)
1/2 bottle white Zinfandel
1/2 bottle Beaujolais
1/4 cup brandy
1/4 cup tequila
1 quart orange juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup lime juice
1 cup club soda
1 cup watermelon juice
6 star anise (optional)
sugar to garnish
sliced oranges, Maraschino cherries

Preparation:

Whisk all ingredients except sugar, oranges and cherries. Add sugar, to taste. Garnish with sliced oranges and Maraschino cherries.

Serving size: 8.

-- Jon "The Mad Chef" Ashton

(Mary Constantine of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee.)

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