June 8, 2011
If watermelon were a brand, it would be a very successful one. First of all, it has a name that tells you exactly what it is—at more than 90 percent water, it’s the juiciest fruit going. It has attractive packaging. Plus, it’s got impeccable timing. It doesn’t even bother making an appearance until summer really heats up and all anyone wants is something cool, sweet and hydrating. If they could only figure out that seed problem. (Sorry, so-called seedless watermelons are neither truly seedless nor, in my experience, as good as the original.)
The best way to eat watermelon? Straight up, by the wedge, bare feet dangling into a pool, lake or other body of water. But here are five other pretty good ideas:
1. Salads. It’s Greek. It’s salad. But it’s not Greek salad. Toss together some watermelon with feta cheese and olives and you’ve got the basics of a classic Aegean summer dish. For a twist: Grill the watermelon, as Recipe Girl does, to caramelize the sugars. Jacques Pépin adds fresh mint and Tabasco sauce. The Food Section gives equal billing to another quintessential summer fruit, tomatoes. Bobby Flay takes it in a Southwestern direction by swapping in jicama instead of olives and feta and adding lime juice.
2. Drinks. Watermelon is practically a beverage already, but it’s also a natural in cocktails and nonalcoholic drinks. You can mix up a Mexican-style agua fresca with lemon juice and mint. What’s Cooking in America makes the novel suggestion of blending watermelon puree with rosewater and lime juice. Imbibe magazine offers a spicy watermelon margarita recipe for those who like that hot-cold, salty-sweet combination. Or just cut to the chase and spike the whole melon with vodka (recommended only if you have a large group of friends to help finish it off).
3. Soups. The most ubiquitous summer soup isn’t necessarily made with tomatoes; a watermelon-cucumber gazpacho from Salon comes with a Spanish cultural history lesson. I’m intrigued by the addition of buttermilk and rosewater (apparently not as novel an ingredient as I thought) in a Bulgarian chilled watermelon soup. Thai-spiced watermelon soup with crabmeat from Epicurious also sounds delicious.
4. Dessert. Watermelon only needs the slightest nudging to be taken into the dessert category—Wicked Good Dinner explains how to make a watermelon granita by simply freezing the pulp with some salt and sugar and adding fresh basil. “Watermelon” ice cream pie is adorable but it’s made with lime and raspberry sherbet; Emeril Lagasse offers a recipe for real watermelon-flavored ice cream with chocolate chips (they look like seeds).
5. Pickled. You don’t have to be a freegan to want to minimize food waste. Why throw away all that watermelon rind when it only takes a couple of days or so to turn it into pickles? Seriously, according to The Bitten Word, they’re not very complicated to make, and if you’ve never tasted sweet-sour pickled watermelon rind you are missing out on one of the triumphs of southern pickling. Pickled pig’s feet, on the other hand, I’m not so sure about.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.