Enjoy the amazing watermelon

Yellow watermelon, feta and mint salad. BY JACK CLEMONS
August 4, 2014

We’ve already eaten several cantaloupes this season, but only last week had our first watermelon. We ventured away from the traditional rosy red and selected a yellow watermelon. The color comes as a surprise - it looks almost out of place inside the same stippled green rind associated with a red watermelon.

The flavor is sweet with hints of honey, and the flesh is very juicy. Most of the seeds are tiny and white, not the big, brown spittable seeds of red watermelon. Although they're sometimes described as seedless, there are rows of these flat, edible seeds throughout the center of the fruit. Occasionally, you’ll find a dark seed; we ran into three or four.

Just like its red cousin, a good-quality yellow watermelon will be firm and heavy for its size. There should be no large patches of white or pale green on the outer rind. A single patch of yellow skin usually marks where the melon rested on the ground as it grew. To test for ripeness, slap the fruit with your open palm and listen for a deep-pitched tone. If the tone is high-pitched or you hear a dead, thudding sound, set aside this one and look for a different melon.

Food historians believe watermelon originated in southern Africa. Recent DNA analysis has confirmed that both wild and cultivated varieties of watermelon share a common ancestor in Namibia. Thousands of years ago, watermelon was cultivated in the Nile valley, and seeds were found in the tomb of King Tut.

Chinese farmers were raising watermelon in the 10th century, and they remain the world’s largest producer of the fruit. By the 13th century, Europe was introduced to the watermelon, and a few hundred years later, the fruit had found its way to the New World. A USDA horticulturist from Charleston, S.C., is credited with developing the hardy watermelon common today: oblong, sturdy, easy to ship and resistant to disease.

Today, there are more than 1,200 varieties of watermelon, ranging widely in size and shape. The flesh of the fruit comes in several colors: red, orange, yellow and white. One of the most unlikely features of the watermelon has been exploited by the Japanese, who grow the fruit in glass boxes, forcing it into the shape of the square container.

These Japanese novelty melons are harvested before reaching peak ripeness (something about breaking that glass) and have not yet reached the desirable point of sweetness. Ripe yellow watermelon available in this country is at its peak this month. It can be stored, uncut, at room temperature for up to two weeks; once cut, it should be stored in a sealed container under refrigeration for up to a week.

The yellow watermelon is tastiest when chilled before serving and is ideal for cocktails and sorbets. I’ve included a recipe for the watermelon salad shown in the photo. It features feta cheese and mint, combining sweet and salty flavors with a savory Balsamic vinaigrette.

Agua fresca (Spanish for fresh water) is a mixture of fruit, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water to make a light, refreshing beverage. These are sold by street vendors throughout Mexico and Central America. The recipe here features yellow watermelon and hints of citrus. Finally, since you dutifully saved your watermelon rind, I’ve included an easy recipe for pickles. All of these can be made with any variety or color of watermelon; we’re just partial to yellow.

Watermelon Salad

1 small watermelon
2 T olive oil
1 T white Balsamic vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/3 C mint leaves
4 oz feta cheese
salt & pepper, to taste

Trim off watermelon rind (reserve for another use or discard) and cut flesh into half-inch cubes, removing large seeds. In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar and lemon juice. Gently toss the watermelon cubes with vinaigrette in a serving bowl. Mince or tear mint leaves and sprinkle over salad. Add feta and stir to distribute. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Agua Fresca

2/3 C water
1/4 C sugar
3 T chopped mint
2 t grated lemon rind
1 t grated lime rind
2 T lemon juice
2 T lime juice
6 C cubed watermelon

Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add mint, lemon rind and lime rind. Allow to stand for 30 minutes, then drain through a sieve into a blender; discard solids. Add lemon juice, lime juice and watermelon to the liquid in the blender. Process into a smooth puree and serve over ice. Store any remaining mixture in the refrigerator, stirring briskly before serving.

Pickled Watermelon Rind

1 qt cubed watermelon rind
1 C apple cider vinegar
1/2 C water
1 C sugar
3 3/4 t Kosher salt
1 star anise
1/2 t cinnamon

Prepare the watermelon rind by removing the green skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut the white rind into 1-inch cubes; set aside. Combine remaining ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil; stir to dissolve sugar and salt. Once mixture reaches a boil, add the cubed watermelon rind. Return to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Transfer rind to a 1-quart container and add remaining liquid to fill the container.

Seal tightly and refrigerate overnight. Pickles will last one week in the refrigerator.

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