We can all relate to the feeling of biting into a lush, juicy watermelon on a hot summer day. It’s sweet and instantly refreshing. The reason watermelon is so good at quenching your thirst is because, as the name suggests, watermelon is composed of 92% water. The other 8% is sweet fructose and healthy nutrients. It’s no wonder that this larger-than-life fruit causes us to bring up memories of summer, picnics, parties, and vacation. Watermelon is basically a symbol of summer. But, watermelon isn’t the only sweet treat that ripens just as the days grow long and the kids get out of school. There are a number of lesser-known mouth-watering melon varieties to add to your summer menus, and so many ways to prepare melons beyond just slicing and serving.
So Many Types of Melon
Watermelon is America’s favorite melon by far. But, it’s only one of some 1,200 melon varieties worldwide. Melon is actually only a quasi-fruit, and many consider them to be quasi-vegetables as well. Melon is closely related to squashes and gourds, so it’s no surprise that some melon varieties have more of an earthy, slightly-bitter, vegetable-like taste, rather than the bursting, sweet flavor we are used to getting from watermelons, cantaloupes, and honeydews.
Still, in addition to the veggie-like melons, there are a dozen more melon varieties that rival watermelon’s crisp, summery sweetness. In the same family as watermelon (the Citrullus lanatus family) is the yellow watermelon. Yellow watermelons look identical to watermelons from the outside, but when you cut into them, the fruit is bright yellow and tastes somewhat like honey. Both the red and yellow watermelon are packed with nutrients, water, and fiber, but red watermelons have the scarlet-tinted antioxidant, lycopene. Yellow watermelons lack this nutrient, but contain the golden-colored antioxidant, beta carotene, instead.
Santa Claus Melons and More Varieties
The Santa Claus melon also looks like a slightly yellow watermelon from the outside, but it’s actually part of the Cucumis melo or muskmelon family, a trait it shares with honeydew and cantaloupe. They are thus named because the uncut fruit stays ripe for months. If you want to serve watermelon at Christmas, you can buy Santa Claus melons in August, store them somewhere cool, and they will retain their freshness until the year’s end. Santa Claus melons are low in calories and rich in vitamin C, making them a healthy, tasty treat – winter or summer!
There are dozens of other less well-known, but still deliciously sweet and juicy muskmelon varieties. Hami is a melon that looks identical to a cantaloupe on the outside. On the inside, however, Hami is much sweeter and has a crispier, crunchier consistency than cantaloupe. Like other melons, because of the high water content, Hamis are low-calorie treats, with only about 60 calories in a cup of the fruit.
Crenshaws are another muskmelon variety. They are yellow on the outside with yellow, candy-like fruit on the inside. Some call the crenshaw the sweetest melon in the world. Galia melon, meanwhile, are green melons, developed by Israel as a melon variety that could be cultivated in drier, or desert-like conditions. Both the crenshaw and the galia are high in vitamin C and antioxidants and low in calories, like the majority of melons.
The more “unique” melons may be harder to track down. Check out any stores that specialize in exotic foods or healthy foods. Or, go for an online grocery delivery service if you can’t find them at your local fruit market.
There are so many fantastic, summertime melon recipes that run the gamut from salads to cocktails, and even soups. But, nobody will complain if you serve these tasty treats raw and freshly sliced.
Tips on Picking Melons
If you want to put melon on your summer menu, the first step is picking a ripe one. Start by looking for a symmetrical melon. The shape indicates that the fruit was watered evenly, upping its chances of achieving the perfect ratio of water to sweetness. Also, look for a fruit that is more rounded than oblong. The oblong melons are usually male melons and they are less sweet and succulent than their female counterparts. Also, pick the melons up to feel how heavy and dense they are. The denser the fruit, the more juicy deliciousness waits inside.
All melons have a “field spot” on one of their ends. This is where the stem was connected to the growing melon. For watermelons in particular, a yellow or light orange field spot indicates that the melon reached an optimal stage of ripeness before being picked.
The listening trick is another helpful way to determine your fruits’ health. Knock on the melon. A ripe watermelon should return a hollow sound. By contrast, a cantaloupe that is ripe sounds low, but not hollow.
The Scoop on Cutting Your Melons
Once you bring your melon home or to your restaurant, the next step is extracting the fruit. To cut a big melon evenly, you can use a long serrated bread knife, or, you can use a watermelon knife, designed especially for slicing up enormous, dense fruits. We also recommend using a grooved cutting board, so you don’t end up with watermelon juice all over the counter. Slice the fruit in half, right down the center. For melons with seeds concentrated in the middle, like honeydew and cantaloupe, use a melon baller to scoop out the seeds.
But, don’t throw those seeds away! Melon seeds are packed with vitamins, fiber, and protein and there are numerous recipes that can turn them into tasty treats. Not only do the seeds taste great roasted with a little bit of olive oil and salt, but you can also use them to make Sübye, a Turkish treat. Sübye is a drink made by blending up the seeds, letting them steep in sugar water for a few hours, and then straining the seeds out of the water. It’s just as sweet and refreshing as the melon itself.
Once your melon is sliced open and clean, you can cut it into serving-size wedges, slice it into squares, or use a melon baller to extract smooth, rounded pieces. A melon baller is an easy way to get beautiful, attractively-rounded, bite-sized pieces of melon for a salad or platter. Plus, you can use this tool for preparing dozens of other foods, from stuffing cupcakes, to coring apples, to serving mini ice-cream scoops.
Whichever way you slice it, before serving, plate the melon and other fruits on an attractive serving tray, to make them even more irresistible. A melon-enhanced fruit salad is full of colors and a glass serving bowl lets these colors shine out to their fullest. For catered events that require single-servings, putting melon or fruit salad in hurricane glasses that make the fruit look classy and delectable.
Repurposing Your Melon Pulp, Rind and Other Tricks
Just like the seeds can be repurposed for some really delicious and nutritious recipes, the hard shell of a watermelon can also be reused to make a serving basket if you cut it correctly. We’ve all seen picnic spreads featuring that iconic, striped green, living basket full of fruit, jello, or mixed drinks. Watermelon baskets make a great finishing touch at catered affairs and picnics, and there are so many videos online to guide you in preparing such a basket.
But, the watermelon shell has much more uses than just a repurposed basket. If you are adventurous and like cooking with new foods, consider also cooking and serving your melon rind. Watermelon rind is packed with a nutrient called citrulline which can boost workouts and keep blood pressure down. If you choose to cook with the rind, make sure you scrub it really well first to remove any potential bacteria, and when possible, opt for organic watermelon that hasn’t been exposed to pesticides or chemicals.
Watermelon rind is kind of earthy and vegetable-like, so it works really well in the place of cucumbers and other vegetables in several recipes. For example, pickled rind is a healthy, tasty treat, and you can market it as a waste-free, sustainable (and quite tasty) food innovation. Just boil the rind in a large pot, strain the water, and place the rinds in a large glass-or-plastic bowl. Next, boil up your brine and pour it over the watermelon rinds. After a day, transfer the pickled rinds to a glass jar. They can be kept in the fridge for up to two weeks. Or, use a pressure canner to seal them for much longer. Serve the rinds in the place of or alongside pickles.
You can also juice the rind in a food processor with onion, garlic, tomato, basil, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper to make a quick-and-easy watermelon-rind gazpacho soup. Watermelon-rind gazpacho is the ultimate cool fresh-tasting soup to upgrade your summer menu.
Also, if you open up your melon, just to find to your disappointment that it’s overripe and too mushy and juicy to enjoy, you don’t need to throw it away either. Overripe bananas make a great banana bread. Overripe apples make delicious applesauce. And overripe melons make delicious cocktails. Scoop out the fruit and put it in a blender with some simple syrup and you have a delicious melon-flavored juice base for a mixed drink. Or, fold the pureed melon into mascarpone cheese for a yummy melon-flavored cheesecake. Turn it into a smoothie or a sorbet. The possibilities are endless.
Other Summertime Melon Menu Ideas
Even if you prefer to go traditional with your melons and stick to the fruit itself, leaving out the seeds and rind, you still have a host of summer menu add-ons featuring these fruity favorites. One easy way to slip that melony flavor into any recipe, without too much of a fuss is to substitute liquids for melon water. Blend the melon, strain out the liquid, or use a juicer, and then use it in baking and cooking in the same way you would normally use water. It will give your culinary creations a sweet edge and makes for a great summer menu boost.
Watermelon pulp is another fantastic watermelon byproduct. It’s made in a similar way to watermelon water, but is left unstrained. Watermelon pulp is a delicious ingredient in jams and ice creams. Actually, you can literally substitute it anywhere you would normally use pureed fruit.
Here’s a hint; because watermelon’s flavor is quite subtle, it can be snuck into so many recipes. In general, when crafting melon-themed recipes, watermelons pair well with some classic combos like other melons, fruits, berries, mint, pecans, and feta cheese, and with some less well-known flavor combos like jalapeno, corn, red onion, chili pepper, fish, beans, maple syrup, avocado, lettuce, and grains.
Actually a lot of these ingredients — lettuce, avocado, red onions, and corn, to name a few — are often found in salads. Consider slicing up the watermelon meat, unpureed, and throwing it in a salad with avocado, feta cheese, and mint. Mint’s cool, citrusy sharpness, combined with watermelon’s refreshing sweetness makes for a salad that screams, “summer.”
And while you’re at it, why not throw the mint, the watermelon, some simple syrup, lime, rum, and club soda together for a summery mixed drink menu upgrade. You can make a similar cocktail by blending tequila, cantaloupe, lime, simple syrup and mint. Serve up the cocktail on ice in a tall cooler glass to make this drink shine.
Melons are simple and affordable fruits that can be used in creative and interesting ways – from cutting them into cubes for appetizers to flavoring drinks with their sweet and unique flavors. By taking advantage of their many uses, restaurants can easily market the appeal of this amazing fruit. With careful research and thought, these delicious fruits can truly become a valuable asset to any summer menu!.