This is watermelon season, and in addition to buying this yummy fruit in the supermarket, local varieties are available at farmers markets and roadside stands.
Watermelon is a delicious and nutritious fruit, full of vitamins and a good source of potassium. The yummy red picnic-pleaser also offers tasty hydration in summer’s heat, but if you restrict watermelon to dessert, you are missing out.
Watermelon is a terrific addition on the savory side of the menu, and for those thinking about savory options, many are also easy to prepare.
My introduction to watermelon as a savory came in salads. A couple of months ago, the Internet, my husband’s food magazines, television shows and restaurants raised my awareness of the delights of pairing sweet watermelon with the delightfully salty feta cheese, either as a simple pairing or over lettuce, with tomatoes and more. Joy Bauer, NBC’s nutrition expert, recommends simply placing a piece of feta on top of a watermelon cube for a 24-calorie, sweet-savory snack.
“To me in savory items, watermelon adds a wonderful refreshing element,” said Joseph Bonaparte, executive director of Culinary Arts at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach. “It also adds a wonderful texture, or crunch. A common combination is a simple salad of watermelon and tomato. The watermelon adds texture, and the sweetness of the watermelon compliments the earthiness in a tomato, and brings out the tomatoes’ sweetness. Both benefit from salt.”
He also noted that cucumber and watermelon is a common combination where both flavors complement each other.
Pairing watermelon with pork products is very appropriate since, like the pig, everything can be used from it, even the rind. Pickled watermelon rind is wonderful, something I remember from my youth.
“For me pork, especially pork belly (fatty pork) is an especially good combination,” Bonaparte said. “The freshness, sweetness and texture of watermelon make it a marvelous companion. The sweet crunch is a perfect counterbalance to rich, flavorful pork, whether the pork is smoked or not.”
Eric Masson, chef/owner of The Brentwood, said watermelon is the star ingredient of the season, especially when the weather gets hot.
“It is juicy and refreshing, and pairs perfectly with the mint and the fresh goat cheese,” he said. “The salty, crispy, warm pork belly is a great contrast to the sweet, soft, cold watermelon. As opposites attract, both ingredients balance this dish beautifully.”
Unfortunately, Masson’s masterpiece, the fabulous Pork Belly Watermelon Appetizer takes so many hours and involves so many intricate operations and special equipment that Masson himself doubts it is practical to create in a home kitchen.
“The watermelon is compressed with a mint-infused simple syrup; the pork belly is cured for 96 hours and cooked sous-vide for 17 hours,” he said. “This dish is a perfect illustration of the French low-country cuisine that I have been trying to develop at The Brentwood. It utilizes local ingredients, watermelon, fresh goat cheese, pork belly and mint, from our garden, and a French technique: sous-vide cooking.”
Sous-vide means cooking ingredients in a vacuum-sealed plastic pouch. Usually this is done for a long time at a low temperature.
Masson, as an encouragement to home cooks, also spoke of some combinations he is thinking of trying and that folks can try at home.
“Watermelon gazpacho with cucumbers, chili peppers, red wine vinegar, chopped red onion, [extra-virgin olive oil] and topped with feta cheese,” Masson said. “Grilled watermelon can be used in a salad with prosciutto and blue cheese.”
One of the best places to find a plethora of savory recipes for watermelon is Florida’s National Watermelon Promotion Board, www.watermelon.org. The website also offers a list of festivals dedicated to this summer treat.
The accompanying recipes are courtesy of the NWPB.
Shrimp and Watermelon Napoleons
Note: This recipe calls for “salad” shrimp. I prefer to cook wild, caught-local small shrimp instead and cut them up to the size of the salad shrimp. The taste is much better!
▪ 2 cups cooked baby salad shrimp
▪ 2/3 cup mayonnaise
▪ 1 tablespoon fresh snipped dill
▪ 12 4-inch seeded rounds of watermelon, about 1/2-inch thick
▪ 4 large cocktail shrimp
▪ 4 dill sprigs
Mix together the shrimp, mayonnaise and dill. Chill until ready to serve. To serve, place a round of the watermelon on a serving plate and top with a thin layer of the shrimp salad. Top that with another round of the watermelon and then another layer of the shrimp salad. Top that with another watermelon round. Place a cocktail shrimp on top with a sprig of dill. Repeat to create 4 Napoleons.
Grilled Chicken and Boursin Sandwiches
Makes: 2 or 3 large sandwiches
▪ 1 9- or 10-inch round, herbed focaccia
▪ 5 ounces Boursin cheese
▪ 3 grilled skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, sliced
▪ 4 thin slices seedless watermelon
▪ 1/4 cup sesame seeds
▪ 3 ounces baby arugula
Split the focaccia through the center as for a sandwich and spread the Boursin over the cut sides of the bread. Arrange the chicken over the Boursin on the bottom piece of bread. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the watermelon and grill it quickly over hot coals just to warm. Arrange in an even layer over the chicken and top the watermelon with the arugula. Place the top of the bread, Boursin side down, over the arugula. Cut sandwich into halves or quarters.
▪ 6 cups torn, mixed salad greens
▪ 3 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
▪ 1/2 cup sliced onion
▪ 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
▪ 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
▪ dash cracked black pepper
In large bowl, mix all ingredients except oil and pepper. Just before serving, toss salad mixture with oil. Garnish with pepper.