By Jade Ortego
Killeen Daily Herald
Watermelon, the thirst-quenching summer staple, is - almost literally - a sponge for many different tastes.
Its sweetness is interesting and subtle enough to pair with the strength of tomato and Mediterranean cheeses, said Kenneth Montgomery, the deputy chef at the Shilo Inn in Killeen, adding that it works well in sorbets, sherbet, sauces and cocktails. And of course it can be enjoyed alone, sliced, outdoors and sprinkled with salt.
According to New York Times writer Liz Smith, in a story published in the publication's "Times Topics" section on March 30, 2003, evidence suggests that the cultivation of watermelon - Citrullus Lanatus - can be traced back thousands of years to the Kalahari Desert in tropical Africa. Hieroglyphics from ancient Egypt depict the harvesting of watermelons, Smith wrote.
Watermelons, of which there are around 1,200 varieties, are 92 percent water, the rest being mostly sugar.
According to mypyramid.gov, the melon is an excellent source of vitamin C and good source of vitamin A. The rind is edible and can be stir fried, stewed or pickled.
Uncut watermelon may become more nutritious if stored at room temperature. Levels of lycopene, considered a potential cancer preventative, have been found to increase up to 40 percent in melons stored at 70 degrees for several days, and remain unchanged in chilled fruit.
As a mild fruit with a high water content, watermelon can be used to pick up spicy and salty tastes, for instance onion and jalapeño, and they contrast each other well.
A number of recipes can be found for watermelon and tomato salads with basil or mint, watermelon gazpacho, or watermelon paired with feta, Stilton or goat cheeses.
Montgomery said that he would pair watermelon in a cold salad with a yellow or Beefsteak tomato because of their high acidity. To counteract the flavor, Montgomery suggested adding blue cheese.
"Different parts of the palate pick up different flavors, so you can have that explosion in your mouth," Montgomery said.
Watermelon and tomato pair well because tomatoes are also semi-sweet vine fruits.
"When pairing your fruits together, choose those that grow in their natural [similar] environments," he said.
Montgomery found watermelon also pairs well with Spanish or white onion and jalapeños.
"Something sweet and hot like that, it makes a nice salsa," Montgomery said, adding that he makes a watermelon salsa to use on blackened mahi-mahi.
And watermelon is particularly good for cocktails, desserts and garnishes, but doesn't work well with heat, so its savory applications are limited, Montgomery said.
Matthew West, fruit arranger at Edible Arrangements, uses watermelon as a focal point in a seasonal arrangement called the "Watermelon Festival." The arrangement is the same as the "Fruit Festival," but replaces watermelon for oranges. West said that "Watermelon Festival" would be good for a picnic because of its larger, centerpiece size, and because the taste of the watermelon is played up.
Gazpacho with Watermelon and Avocado
2 fat ripe tomatoes (about 1 pound), cored and cut into chunks
1 cup seedless watermelon, diced small
Two-inch-thick slice of day-old baguette (about 1 1/2 ounces), cut into pieces
1 Kirby cucumber, trimmed and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ice cube
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 avocado, peeled and diced small.
In a blender combine tomatoes, 1/2 cup watermelon, bread, cucumber, onion, garlic, salt, pepper and ice cube. Purée until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Chill in refrigerator until very cold, at least 30 minutes.
Serve, garnished with remaining chopped watermelon and avocado.
Tomato, Watermelon and Goat Cheese Salad
2 cups tiny ripe cherry tomatoes (halved if larger than a grape)
1 ripe yellow tomato, sliced into thin wedges
1 cup watermelon, balled with a melon baller or cut into chunks, drained
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt or kosher salt.
In a large bowl, combine the cherry tomatoes, yellow tomato, watermelon and goat cheese. Drizzle some olive oil over the surface, and season with salt to taste.
Using two spoons, mix gently. Adjust seasoning. Place equal portions on four plates, and serve.
Cut a two-inch-square plug in a watermelon deep enough to go into the cavity. Deeply prick the flesh with an ice pick, and fill to near the top with light rum, Cognac, Champagne or gin. Replace the plug, and seal with heavy tape. Refrigerate the melon for 24 hours, turning it over four or five times. Serve sliced.