Watermelon treats offer relief from summer heat

July 31, 2020

Last week we tasted our first watermelon of the season. Since there are only two of us in the house, I was happy to find Lloyd’s Market offering pre-cut halves. The bright-red flesh was a lovely color, and the flat, whitish seeds told me this was a “seedless” variety. Regular “seeded” watermelons have larger, black seeds that are quite hard. These tiny ones are easily swallowed.

After sampling a few slices out of hand for a juiciness and taste test (it passed with flying colors), I cubed a few cups of fruit to make into a salad. The watermelon is tossed together with feta cheese, mint leaves and sliced red onion, then splashed with a dressing of olive oil, white Balsamic vinegar and a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

This is a delicious combination of sweet, salty and bright flavors. Just as some people will sprinkle salt on their melon slices to accentuate the sweetness, adding saltiness with crumbled feta enhances the intense sugary notes of the watermelon. Mint and onion are another set of contrasts in the mix, also adding to the depth of flavor. You can adapt this recipe by adding shaved fennel, radish or cucumber.

Although I’d started with just a half watermelon, I still had lots more in the refrigerator, so I let the excessively high temperatures inspire me to make something frozen. This is the point at which I have to choose my words very carefully, as “shave ice” is not the same thing as “shaved ice” which is also different from “granita.” So, we’ll start with some definitions.

Granita is a frozen fruit dessert made from fresh fruit and water. The mixture is pureed in a blender and frozen until icy; it’s then scraped with a fork into flakes and frozen again. The final product is enjoyed as spoonfuls of crunchy, fruity ice bits that melt on your tongue. Specific recipes will vary based on the type of fruit and how juicy it is. One of the options is a garnish of red pepper flakes for a sharp contrast.

Shaved ice, sometimes called a snow cone, is made from finely crushed ice scooped into a cup and then flavored with a sweetened syrup. Initially the ice looks very bright white, then the small pieces absorb the colored syrup. Several fast food and convenience shops have specific brand names for their offerings, which can come in a wide variety of bright colors and odd flavors.

Shave ice is something a little different and has its origins in Hawai’i. It’s aptly named, as it is made by shaving a block of ice. Standard flavors like cherry and strawberry are common, but when served in Hawai’i, you’ll find tropical flavors such as guava, pineapple, coconut, passionfruit, kiwi and mango, often in combination.

This is traditionally served in a cone-shaped cup with a scoop of vanilla ice cream like buried treasure at the bottom. Or, you can make a “snow cap,” with sweetened condensed milk drizzled over the top. No matter whether you turn to shave ice, shaved ice or granita – frozen watermelon is a wonderful summer treat.

Watermelon Salad

4 C cubed seedless watermelon
2 T olive oil
1 T white Balsamic vinegar
1 T lemon juice
2 T minced mint leaves
1/3 C thinly sliced red onion
4 oz feta cheese
pepper, to taste

In a serving bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar and lemon juice. Gently toss the watermelon cubes with vinaigrette. Sprinkle in mint leaves, red onion and feta; toss to combine. Season to taste with pepper. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Watermelon Granita

4 C cubed seedless watermelon*
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1/4 C sugar
pinch salt
vanilla yogurt (optional)

Combine the watermelon, lime juice and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Purée until smooth, about 1 minute. Season to taste with a pinch of salt. Spread the mixture in a 9-by-13-inch pan. Place in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Using the tines of a fork, scrape the granita to break up the frozen bits. Return to the freezer and repeat this scraping process every 30 minutes over the course of 4 hours. The granita is done when the mixture is completely frozen and has a dry, flaky texture. Serve garnished with a dollop of vanilla yogurt (optional). *Note: you can substitute very ripe peaches or nectarines for the watermelon.

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