By Desiree Johnson
Killeen Daily Herald
Summer break means sprinklers, backyard barbecues and one major summer staple: watermelons.
More than 90 percent water – how the fruit got its name – the watermelon is the summer's most popular seasonal fruit for good reason. It's versatile, colorful and healthy.
Watermelon has no fat or cholesterol and is an excellent source of vitamins A, B-6, C, fiber and potassium, according to the National Watermelon Promotion Board.
Originally discovered in Africa nearly 5,000 years ago, watermelons are now grown in more than 1,200 varieties in 96 countries. It is the most consumed melon in the United States, followed by cantaloupe and honeydew.
Best of all, watermelons can go with anything. Whether they're in refreshing summer drinks or in creative sandwiches and alternative main dishes, watermelons are a versatile addition to any meal. Mediterranean countries enjoy watermelon with the taste of feta cheese. Southerners in the U.S. might enjoy the melon with a little salt on the side and college students have been known to let a bottle of vodka soak into their watermelons overnight.
It takes a lot of care and hand-picking (watermelon rinds are actually very fragile) before a watermelon makes it from the grower to the table. Grown in rows, once watermelon plants are pollinated the crop is ready to harvest within 90 days. Sometimes it can be a hassle to transport a full-grown watermelon from the store to the fridge, but luckily there are alternatives that can help. Mini watermelons and seedless watermelons (which are traditionally smaller than normal) can fit better in the fridge, or owners can spend a little extra time cutting up their melon for easier storage.
The Japanese have managed to bypass the work, however. They recently created a cube-shaped watermelon that slides easily onto refrigerator shelves by growing the melons in tempered glass boxes while they're still on the vine.
No matter which watermelon is the winner, picking a right one (any melon, for that matter) is important to making sure cutting into your melon won't be a disappointment. Check for the right color in a melon to be sure it wasn't picked too soon, according to foodsubs.com. Check to make sure the melon is free of damage (spots, cracks or mold) and be sure the melon is ripe before taking it home. If the melon doesn't pass the three tests (color, damage and ripeness), leave it and move on to another.
Whether a melon is part of a more intricate recipe or is a simple pleasure on its own, the watermelon is a perfect addition to summer and every family's breakfast, lunch and dinner table.
Summer Pita Sandwich
4 wedges seeded watermelon
1 cup diced cooked chicken
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
Dash cayenne pepper
2 whole pita breads, halved
1/4 cup prepared spreadable herb cheese
4 large lettuce leaves
Place sliced watermelon on paper towels to remove excess liquid. Mix chicken, cilantro, yogurt, garlic salt and cayenne. Spread inside surfaces of pita bread halves with herb cheese and fill each with about 1/4 cup chicken mixture. Arrange watermelon and lettuce in pita bread.
6 ounces cubed, seeded watermelon
4 ounces sour mix
1 ounce simple syrup
6 ounces ice
Blend all ingredients together; serve in a 14-ounce glass. Garnish with lemon and watermelon wedge.
Watermelon herb potato mash
2 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 ounces soft fresh goat cheese
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
½ to 1 cup watermelon juice
1/2 cup cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
Cook potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain well. Return to pot. Mix in cheese and butter. Mash until smooth. Add watermelon juice, cream, basil and garlic and stir over medium heat until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.
Watermelon and grapefruit shooters
½ cup water
1 4-ounce box strawberry-flavored gelatin mix
1 ½ cups watermelon puree
1 cup pink grapefruit juice
Tequila to taste (about 1 ½ cups)
Bring one-half cup water to a boil.
Place the gelatin in a heatproof container with a spout and pour the water into the gelatin and stir to dissolve.
Combine the dissolved gelatin and the watermelon puree.
Divide the watermelon mixture among 12 shot glasses or small juice glasses.
Cool until thick but not set.
Top each glass with the grapefruit juice and tequila.
Contact Desiree Johnson at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559.