Watermelon, Start to Finish
But on my recent trip to France, I encountered watermelon at the beginning of a meal, and found it to be a surprisingly satisfying companion to some appetite-whetting savory ingredients.
The sweetest watermelons of the season should be hitting the markets right about now, so it’s a perfect time to start gorging on this delightful seasonal treat while it’s at its peak. If you have the upper body strength, buy a whole melon rather than a pre-sliced, shrink-wrapped wedge, as it is more likely to be flavorful and sweet (pre-cut melons are usually a bit under-ripe when sliced so as to keep their firm appearance and texture.)
One cup of diced watermelon has about 45 calories, 12g of carbohydrate, ~1g of fiber and 20% of your daily Vitamin C requirements. While watermelon is mostly, well, water, don’t be fooled into thinking that it lacks in nutritional merit compared to other fruits. Watermelon derives its pink color from lycopene, the natural red pigment made famous by tomatoes. It’s the same pigment believed to be responsible for the observed benefits of tomato products in cancer prevention, particularly prostate cancer. Among the other raw fruits and vegetables rich in lycopene, such as papaya, pink grapefruit, tomatoes and guava, watermelon generally contains the most lycopene by weight. (However, tomato juice, ketchup and tomato paste have significantly more, owing from the processing they undergo which makes the lycopene more bioavailable.)
Starting off with Watermelon: Two Ways
- Watermelon Salad with Salty Cheese and Mint. Sweet watermelon pairs beautifully with aged, slightly salty cheeses, like manchego or feta and mint. For an easy, oven-free summer appetizer, arrange thin slices of watermelon, manchego cheese and mint on a platter and drizzle with a thick, syrupy balsamic vinegar. Martha Stewart offers a milder version of this recipe for those of you with greater lactose tolerance (she uses ricotta salata, a higher-lactose cheese than manchego) in her recipe for Minted Watermelon Salad. For a more traditional tossed salad, sometimes you’ll see these ingredients paired with onion and/or tomatoes as well. Epicurious offers a lovely version of this salad that also takes advantage of the beautiful (and bountiful) heirloom tomatoes coming into season now with their Watermelon, Tomato and Mint salad.
- Grilled Watermelon with Eggplant and Shallots: This is my loosey-goosey attempt to recreate a divine appetizer I had in Paris. The original version used smoked eggplant, which added a beautiful dimension of flavor that, alas, I am ill-equipped to replicate in my kitchen. It also garnished the plate with an Indian or Morroccan-tasting spice that I couldn’t quite identify; you’re welcome to experiment along these lines, but for my Americanized version, I decided to use balsamic vinegar instead. I can’t provide exact quantities, but the beauty of this recipe is that you can make as much or as little as you need depending on how many people you’re serving. I’d allocate one large wedge of watermelon per person.
Watermelon, into medium-thick, long “fillets” (see photo)
Eggplant, sliced lengthwise into thin-to-medium slices
One shallot, diced
Balsamic Vinegar (a thick, well-aged one would work beautifully here)
Did you like this? If so, please bookmark it, RSS feed.
- Brush watermelon slices and eggplant slices with olive oil, and sprinkle with a touch of salt.
- Grill watermelon for 1-2 minutes on each side. Remove from heat.
- Grill eggplant until very tender and browned/grill marked.
- While eggplant is grilling, saute diced shallots in olive oil until translucent but not overly brown or crispy.
- Assemble: Layer eggplant on bottom, then watermelon, then garnish with shallots. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar to dress.
- Serve dish warm or at room temperature.