Mark Twain said, “When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat.” Most would agree. Watermelon has been called “summer’s blessing” and has long established itself as an essential nosh on hot July days.
While the original wild watermelon is believed to have been bitter with much less flavor, it contained valuable fluid to sustain societies in dry, desert climates. Archaeologists unearthed traces of watermelon seeds at a 5,000-year-old settlement in Libya. Paintings of watermelons adorned King Tut’s crypt, dating cultivated varieties to at least 4,000 years ago. Ancient cultivars propagated varieties with a milder taste, and eventually bred out the acidity.
Watermelon is great for its refreshing sweetness, but also for its hydrating ability. The high water and antioxidant content of summer’s favorite fruit leave partakers quenched and satisfied. High in Vitamins A, C and B6 plus potassium, watermelon is a nutrient powerhouse. As an added bonus, it’s low in calories.
We combined watermelon with other summer all-stars like vine-ripened tomatoes, sweet and spicy peppers and heat-loving herbs to create invigorating dishes you can harvest from your backyard garden or source from the farmer’s market.
Using watermelon in the base for this gazpacho adds natural sugar to an already fresh line-up of tomatoes, cucumber and sweet bell pepper. Mint adds another cooling element, but grassy cilantro or sweet basil would work as well. Slightly acidic with a peppery finish, this summer soup is a restorative treat after a long day in the sun or as a starter for a get-together among friends.
Knowing how well feta and watermelon pair, we couldn’t help joining in on the whipped feta craze for this summer harvest salad. It includes all your summer faves: avocado, tomato, cucumber, basil and, of course, watermelon. Whipped feta also marries beautifully with pita, crudités or everything bagels. I’ve taken to smearing it on my cucumber sandwiches.
With the multitude of ways this summer staple is enjoyed, the best July days end with sand in between our toes, tan lines and watermelon smiles.
Summer Harvest Salad With Whipped Feta
Makes 4-6 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
1 lb watermelon, cubed
1 lb cherry tomatoes, halved
1 lb cucumber, chopped
1 avocado, cubed
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Thinly sliced red onion
Juice of half a lemon
4 oz feta, drained
4 oz cream cheese
2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for dressing
1 clove garlic
1 tsp lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon
Prepare the whipped feta by combining cheese, olive oil, garlic, lemon zest and the juice of half a lemon in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth and creamy.
Spoon the whipped feta on the bottom of your salad serving bowl and drizzle with additional olive oil (if desired). Toss vegetables and basil together and transfer to the serving bowl. Squeeze the juice of the remaining lemon half on the salad before enjoying.
Makes 4 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Inactive time: 4 hours
2 lbs (or about 3 cups) watermelon
1/2 lb tomatoes, seeded
1 cucumber, peeled
1 bell pepper, seeded with stem removed
1/2 red onion, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 serrano pepper, seeded with pith removed
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh mint, packed
Combine vegetables in a large blender or food processor. Blend until smooth (or for chunkier gazpacho, only pulse 3 times for about 2-3 seconds each). Add in remaining ingredients and blend until smooth, or until desired consistency.
Refrigerate for 4 hours and serve chilled.