Five ideas for cooking with watermelon

Kelsey McClellan   |   New York Times
The best summer fruits are versatile but also perfect for when you just want to, you know, pick one up and start eating it. Some of the best are: raspberries, peaches, bluberries, cherries and watermelons.
Kelsey McClellan | New York Times The best summer fruits are versatile but also perfect for when you just want to, you know, pick one up and start eating it. Some of the best are: raspberries, peaches, bluberries, cherries and watermelons.
Published August 7 2018

Watermelon has always felt indulgent to me: a staple of backyard Fourth of July celebrations, a respite from the summer heat. The last time I had it, I was sipping a watermelon-mint cooler in a Brooklyn cafe, trying to escape the sweltering air that hovered between the skyscrapers. It worked.

Originating in Africa, watermelon has been a source of rehydration for thousands of years. Egyptian pharaohs were buried with the fruit so they could drink its water in their journey to the afterlife, according to National Geographic. The modern variety is much sweeter than the Egyptians’ melon, but, at around 92 percent water, it’s still a great source of refreshment. Plus, it’s good for you.

Watermelons are "loaded with antioxidants, such as vitamin C, that help reduce an individual’s risk of cancer," explains Melody Chavez-Robben, a registered dietitian in the Tampa Bay area. It also contains vitamin A, which keeps your hair and skin moisturized. And as indulgent as it may seem, it’s only 40 calories per serving.

National Watermelon Day was Friday, so we were inspired to come up with five themed recipes, ranging from a watermelon salsa to a barbecue sauce.

Emily Young, Times correspondent

Feta Watermelon Tabbouleh

Combining savory feta cheese with the sweetness of watermelon, this tabbouleh salad makes for an elegant summer meal, whether you’re treating yourself or serving guests. To begin, place 1 cup quick-cooking, fine bulgur wheat in a medium bowl and cover with very hot water. Place a towel over the bowl to trap the steam, and let it soak for 30 minutes. Drain. Repeat the process. Pour the bulgur wheat into a large bowl and set aside. For the remaining salad ingredients, prepare the following: Wash and finely chop 1 ½ cups flat-leaf parsley. Remove the seeds from 8 ounces of watermelon, peel and cut into ½-inch cubes. Wash and peel half an English cucumber, then cut into ½-inch cubes. Finely chop ½ cup red onion. Wash and chop ? cup fresh dill. When you’re done chopping, set the ingredients aside. You’ll combine them with the bulgur wheat later. To make the dressing, in a small bowl combine 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar with 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, then use a whisk to stir in 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil. Pour the dressing over the bulgur wheat and toss. Crumble 6 ounces feta cheese into the bowl with the bulgur wheat. Add all your chopped ingredients: the flat-leaf parsley, watermelon, English cucumber, red onion and fresh dill. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Recipe adapted from Rachael Ray Every Day.

Watermelon Salsa

Boasting both watermelon and mango, two of my favorite summer fruits, this salsa will turn heads at any party. When chopping the fruit, try to cut it into very small, symmetrical cubes. It may take a little extra time, but this will make your presentation impressive. For those who prefer their salsa on the mild side, you can reduce the amount of pepper and substitute a sweet pepper like a Cubanelle for the jalapeno. To make, add the following ingredients to a bowl: 1 ½ teaspoons lime zest (from about 1 lime), ¼ cup fresh lime juice (from about 3 limes), 1 tablespoon sugar and ¾ teaspoon pepper. Stir to combine. Next, add the remaining ingredients: 3 cups seeded and finely chopped watermelon; 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced; 1 mango, peeled and diced; 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced; 1 small red onion, finely chopped; and 8 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped. Toss gently to combine. Keep the salsa in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it. Before serving, stir in ½ teaspoon garlic salt. The salsa is delicious with tortilla or pita chips. Recipe adapted from Food Network Magazine.

Watermelon Salad

To avoid excess liquid in this salad, try draining the watermelon and fresh tomatoes in a strainer while you chop the other ingredients. Add the dressing right before serving. In a large bowl, combine 3 cups cubed watermelon; 2 large ripe tomatoes, chopped; 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped; 1 small red onion, sliced; ? cup pitted kalamata olives; ? cup crumbled feta; and some chopped parsley and mint. Drizzle with olive oil and red-wine vinegar, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss and serve. Recipe from the New York Times.

Watermelon Barbecue Sauce

Watermelon as a barbecue sauce? You bet. The next time you have a summer barbecue, use this sweet-and-tangy sauce to wow your guests. Begin by cutting the red flesh of a fresh watermelon into chunks, de-seeding it and placing it in your blender. Blend for 30 seconds. The juice will be frothy, but that’s okay — it will just make your sauce thicker. Pour ½ cup of the watermelon juice into a large bowl and add the following ingredients: ½ cup balsamic vinegar, ¼ cup brown sugar, ¼ cup soy sauce, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 minced garlic cloves and 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes. Stir to combine. You can serve the sauce as a dip for roasted vegetables or use it as a delicious way to marinate meat. To marinate, pour the sauce over your meat, reserving some to use for basting. Let the meat marinate for several hours or overnight, keeping it covered and refrigerated. Because the recipe makes 1 ½ cups of sauce, you should have some left over — even after basting — to serve over your cooked meat. Refrigerate the sauce until you use it. Recipe adapted from the Spruce Eats.

Watermelon Smoothie

Start your morning right with this watermelon smoothie, which only takes minutes to make. Simply combine the following ingredients in your blender: 2 cups frozen seedless watermelon chunks, ¼ cup plain yogurt, ? teaspoon cinnamon, 1 ½ cups skim milk and a pinch of salt. You’ll know it’s ready to drink when it’s smooth and creamy. Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart.