This is a salad for when watermelons are at their peak, and perhaps when you are satiated with them au naturel. Like ripe peaches, so heavy and plump that biting into them sends their honeyed juices cascading from your elbow, perfect watermelons are unequaled as fruits. Who can resist their saturated pinky-red flesh? Not me.
Unfortunately, because we rely on imports from the Continent, we here in the UK do not always enjoy the best examples. We lug home the ovoid fruity beasts more in hope than in promise. Unlike during my carefree Florida and Tennessee childhood, I am not always tempted to eat watermelon (or peaches) as nature intended. But even the best ones, the ones cut from vines scurrying around your garden, or purchased from the farm down the road, love to dress up occasionally. This nearly-naked watermelon salad may just be the thing to punctuate the delightful monotony of solo feasting.
Many similar recipes abound, but this is our favourite way. The hints of chili, lime, mint and feta – and they are just hints – complement the melon beautifully. Cool, hot, salty, sour and sweet. Bliss. And it takes all of five minutes to chuck together.
How do you increase your odds of getting a good watermelon? According to Judy Rodgers, in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, not only must you choose one that is heavy for its size (most of us know that one already) but we should note the ‘resting’ side. The resting side is the pale patch where the melon lays growing. She says to select one “where that flush is more yellow than white; this promises maturity, which is when sugar happens.” She also writes that most sweet, ripe watermelons “vibrate like a drum when you tap them.” None of this is foolproof, but you can increase your odds by taking note of her wisdom.
Lycopene is one of the anti-cancer buzzwords that you may hear bandied about. And with good reason. Numerous decent studies have shown that people who eat foods naturally rich in lycopene – a nonprovitamin carotenoid (ie it doesn’t make vitamin A) – have less incidence of cancers of the prostate, lung and stomach. Lycopene may also help to protect against cancer of the cervix, breast, mouth, pancreas, esophagus, and colon and rectum. (The FDA doesn’t quite give lycopene – in tomatoes – a ringing cancer prevention endorsement.) The anti-cancer action may be related to lycopene’s key ability to block the damaging effects of free radicals in the body. It is likely that it is not just lycopene doing all of the hard work, but lycopene in synergy with many other naturally occurring plant compounds found in colourful fruits and vegetables (hence the non-ringing FDA endorsement methinks). Other sources of lycopene: tomatoes (tomato paste is the most concentrated source), guava, apricot, papaya and pink grapefruits. On the latter, many medications – including chemotherapy drugs – list grapefruit juice as a contraindication (ie, shouldn’t have it).
More good news about watermelon – it is among the least sprayed of all crops (see my page, Pesticides In Foods, for more info). Another slice please!
Watermelon. It’s red, it’s round, it smashes on the ground. And it’s dead tasty too. When you tire of eating it straight, dress it up ever so slightly a la food to glow. Or see one of the links below to other great watermelon recipes.
Two Years: A Non-Purist’s Gazpacho
Track of the Week: Steal My Sunshine by Len (1999) – classic late 90s song from a one-hit wonder. Check out this blog post from Work In Progress for a ‘nerd’s eye view’ (I don’t think he will be offended with this comment!) and re-visitation of the making of the Daytona Beach video.
It is all about the watermelon. Everything else in this simple refreshing salad is there to complement, rather than scream for attention. Add thinly sliced red onions, oil, vinegar, pine nuts or even ripe tomatoes if you want, but this is how we prefer it. Goes superbly well with a Mediterranean feast of lamb koftas, grilled aubergines and courgettes, lemony tomato salad and all the lovely Middle Eastern dips and breads, such as hummus (traditional chickpea or broad bean), tzatsiki (from Nigel Slater) and roast beetroot and cashew. Vegans, this is still divine without the cheese, but do add sumac for its tart-savoury notes.
Serves at least 4, but will easily stretch to 8 with a full meal
Deseeded cubes of watermelon cut from a 2 kg (4 lb) ripe watermelon (see above for hints on how to pick the best watermelon)
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced thinly (make it easy to see so that feardies can fish them out)
½ lime OR 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (sometimes I like both, mixed first then drizzled over)
100-200g sheeps’ milk feta cheese (we usually have closer to 100 grams)
handful fresh mint leaves -washed, patted dry with kitchen roll and thinly sliced or torn
1 tsp crushed sumac (optional)
Black pepper (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, use your hands to combine the watermelon cubes (they definitely won’t all be cubes – ‘random shapes’ more like it), red chilli slices and lime or pomegranate molasses. Pour this onto a flat serving platter and crumble over the feta and then top with the sliced or torn mint, and the sumac and black pepper if using. Serve immediately or cover and keep cool for a couple of hours. It is best straight away though as cut watermelon deteriorates rather quickly.
Other Watermelon Recipes To Try:
Watermelon Rind Chutney via Jean-Francois at the no-waste blog 222 Million Tons
Strawberry Watermelon Mint Elixir and Popsicles via EA Stewart of The Spicy RD
Watermelon Aqua Fresca via Chef In You
Spicy Watermelon Gazpacho via Jerry James Stone of Cooking Stoned (beautiful images)
From Food To Glow:
And this mini recipe I mentioned in my deodorant (!) post – frozen watermelon whizzed in blender with a little chili, lime juice and mint (plus splash of vodka, white rum or tequila?)