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Summer’s sweetest

Watermelon salads to enjoy all season long.

By Adam Ried
July 18, 2010

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OK, I’m going to date myself: The first memory I have of tasting alcohol was in 1972, at the ripe old age of 8, at a George McGovern campaign fund-raiser in my Connecticut hometown. With my father otherwise occupied, I made my way into a spiked watermelon. And I liked it. Needless to say, watermelon has held a special place in my heart ever since.

That’s why I like to do more with it than make run-of-the-mill fruit salad (or pump it full of tequila). Sweet and refreshing, watermelon makes a terrific counterpoint to salty and lightly bitter flavors. Feta is a classic partner, and adding arugula and grilled shrimp makes for a quick, cool dinner. Tossing the watermelon with radishes, red onion, and radicchio produces an arresting salad, and infusing sugar syrup with chili pepper and ginger gives what looks like plain melon a sneaky heat.

Seeing Red Watermelon Salad

Serves 6

8 cups bite-size cubes of seedless watermelon (about 2¼ pounds trimmed)

Salt

2½ tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

Pepper

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ medium red onion, very thinly sliced (about ½ cup)

6 large red radishes, thinly sliced (about 1¼ cups)

½ large head radicchio, thinly sliced (about 1½ cups)

½ cup Parmesan shavings, to pass at table

Toss the watermelon gently with ¼ teaspoon salt in a colander set over a large bowl; refrigerate until the watermelon exudes about ¼ cup juice, about 30 minutes. Discard the juice.

Meanwhile, in a large nonreactive bowl, mix the vinegar, honey, ½ teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Vigorously whisk in the oil to blend. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Add the onion, toss to coat, and set aside for about 15 minutes. Add the watermelon, radishes, and radicchio, toss gently to coat, and spread the salad evenly on a serving platter. Serve at once, passing the Parmesan shavings.

Fire and Watermelon

Serves 6

This is adapted from From the Earth to the Table, by John Ash.

¼ cup sugar

2 large jalapeno or serrano chilies, with seeds, chopped (about ¼ cup)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Salt

4 cups bite-size cubes of seedless watermelon (about 1 pound trimmed)

4 cups bite-size cubes of honeydew melon (about 1 pound trimmed)

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, mix the sugar with 3 tablespoons of water and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar, about 2 minutes. Add the chilies, ginger, lime juice, and a pinch of salt, stir to combine, cover, and set aside off heat to steep, at least 1 hour. Strain the syrup, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use.

Toss the watermelon and honeydew gently with ¼ teaspoon salt in a colander set over a large bowl; refrigerate until the melon exudes about ¼ cup juice, about 30 minutes. Discard the juice. In a large bowl, gently toss the melon and syrup. Serve at once.

Shrimp, Feta, and Watermelon Salad With Arugula

Serves 6

5cups bite-size cubes of seedless watermelon (about 1¼ pounds trimmed)

Salt

5tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1½ pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined

2cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons finely grated zest and 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon

Pepper

1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 large shallot, minced (about ¼ cup)

12 cups (loosely packed) arugula or mixed salad greens, washed and dried

1 cup halved grape tomatoes

1 cup crumbled feta cheese (about 4 ounces)

1/3 cup chopped fresh mint

Toss the watermelon gently with ¼ teaspoon salt in a colander set over a large bowl; refrigerate until the watermelon exudes about ¼ cup juice, about 30 minutes. Discard the juice.

Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet over high heat, heat 1½ teaspoons oil until it ripples. Add half the shrimp in a single layer and cook, without stirring, just until they turn pink, about 2 minutes; remove the shrimp to a medium bowl. Return the skillet to the heat, add another 1½ teaspoons oil, and heat until it ripples. Add the remaining shrimp and cook in the same way, about 2 minutes, then add garlic and lemon zest, and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds longer. Add to the first batch of shrimp, along with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Toss and refrigerate until no longer warm, at least 20 minutes.

In a large nonreactive bowl, mix the remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice, vinegar, shallot, ½ teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Vigorously whisk in remaining oil to blend. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary. Pour ½ the dressing into a small container and set aside. Add the arugula to the large bowl, toss to coat lightly with dressing, and spread on a large serving platter. Add the shrimp mixture, tomatoes, watermelon, most of the feta, most of the mint, and the reserved dressing and toss gently to coat, then spread on the bed of greens. Sprinkle with the remaining feta and mint and serve at once.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

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  • july 18 globe magazine cover
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KITCHEN AIDE
A Cut Above

In markets these days, you see more seedless rounded watermelons than you do the seeded oblong versions of yore. These smaller melons offer several advantages. Of course, they’re seedless. Also, their smaller size means they’re easier to lift and handle, which in turn makes it easier to select a good melon. First, a melon slightly larger than a basketball should weigh from 10 to 20 pounds. Second, the melon should be symmetrical and free of cuts, dents, and blemishes. Last, look for the creamy yellow spot on the underside, indicating that the melon sat on the ground while sun-ripening.

Cutting a smaller melon is easier, too, and can be accomplished in three easy steps:

1) Cut off both ends, so it will sit steady, and set the melon upright.

2) Cut lengthwise into quarters.

3) Working with one quarter at a time, use a thin-bladed knife to cut along the rind and separate it from the flesh. From here, it’s a breeze to slice or cube as desired.