Thursday — statistically, the hottest day of the year across the country — has been proclaimed National Drink Watermelon Day.
Yes, drink, not eat, because by doing either, you actually sort of do both.
Those wags at the National Watermelon Promotion Board — who, as you might suspect, are the driving force behind National Drink Watermelon Day — want to take this opportunity to remind us all that watermelon is 92 percent water.
“Not only that, a 2-cup serving only has 80 calories,” said Juliemar Rosado, a spokeswoman for the board and, therefore, for watermelon. “It’s fat-free, of course, and a good source of vitamins A and C and potassium. It also has lycopene, which is an antioxidant carotenoid that’s been studied for its potential role in reducing the risk of heart disease.”
And, of course, there’s that water, without which we couldn’t survive.
You can hydrate by eating watermelon, as the participants in the Marine Corps Marathon did last year, when the board and sister organization the National Watermelon Association handed out 38,000 samples — that’s 34 660-pound bins — of fresh watermelon to runners. Rosado said the idea stemmed from research that suggests watermelon juice is effective in fighting postexercise muscle soreness. And she said the samples were well received.
“We made a splash there,” she said. “We got a lot of feedback saying that was the best thing ever.”
If it’s watermelon juice you’re looking for, it’s available in stores, but Rosado said it’s also quite simple to make: You peel and cube the watermelon, whir it in a blender and, if desired, strain.
“That’s a preference,” she said. “Some people do like it strained and that’s fine, and some people like it nice and chunky.”
You can, of course, just eat it cubed or in slices, or maybe cut up to resemble the layers of a cake, with icing as a finishing touch.
Or you can use it in a salad, like the chefs at Society Cafe at Encore, where it’s part of the summer barbecue menu, available through Labor Day or later.
“I think watermelon’s pretty good on its own, so we didn’t do a lot with it,” said Jeremy Pacheco, the restaurant’s executive chef, adding that this is the peak season for watermelon (which is why July is National Watermelon Month). He serves big chunks of the melon with arugula, mint and basil, plus some shaved black pepper-feta cheese from a small cheese producer near Phoenix, and finishes it with balsamic syrup and lemon olive oil.
“It’s going very well so far,” Pacheco said. “I think because of the freshness of it. When you think of summer, I think people think of watermelon and barbecues and stuff. I think it just goes with the season.”
Feta and watermelon seem to have a natural affinity for each other, which is why they frequently crop up together.
“When I was coming up with the salad, I liked the salty from the cheese, the sweet from the watermelon, the bitter from the arugula and the tartness of the vinegar,” he said. “It’s a really simple salad, but you’re able to hit all the flavor components.”
At Red Rock Resort, executive banquet chef Chris Garcia said he has unique opportunities to do a lot of experimenting because catering menus are largely dependent on the customer — “whatever they can think of or can dream up.”
He’s also doing a watermelon salad, but with vacuum-sealed melon.
“It sucks out all the air and intensifies the juices and the color,” Garcia said.
They start by simmering ginger in water and pouring it on cut-up watermelon, then put the melon in plastic bags and vacuum-seal it. They cut down the rind, candy it and cut it in fine dice. The salad is the cut-up melon with the candied rind, pickled shiitake mushrooms, baby mizuna, feta cheese and a thin slice of watermelon radish.
“So we get some nice colors,” Garcia said.
It’s dressed with a mix of soy, ginger and some chilies.
“It’s a really popular salad,” he said.
Garcia also grills watermelon. He cuts it into slices about 1¼ inches thick, salts it, lets it rest 20 minutes, rinses it, pats it dry, pats it with olive oil and puts it on the hot grill.
“It adds a smokiness,” he said, “especially if you’re doing it on a charcoal grill with nice mesquite charcoal, or mesquite wood. It intensifies the sweetness. It gives you those summer flavors.”
Grilled watermelon, he said, has “endless possibilities.” Sometimes he’ll cut it up and use it in a traditional fruit salad. Or, as a dessert, he’ll drizzle it with honey and add a squeeze of lemon juice.
And if you’d still prefer to drink your watermelon, you don’t have to stick to plain ol’ juice. Society serves a watermelon mojito.
“It’s pretty standard,” Pacheco said. “Mint, watermelon, fresh lime juice and light rum.”
And all of that healthy stuff, too.
1 cup finely chopped watermelon
7 cups coarsely chopped watermelon
6 cups watermelon juice
½ cup sugar
1 lime large and juiced
Water, if needed
Watermelon wedges and mint, for garnish
Combine all ingredients in a large serving pitcher. Garnish with watermelon wedges and mint.
2 cups watermelon puree
Juice from 3 fresh lemons
1 tablespoon lemon zest
½ cup maple syrup (can use light version)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper, or to taste
Chicken wings or drumettes
2 cups pineapple juice
½ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 cloves minced fresh garlic
For glaze, simmer ingredients together in a heavy saucepan for 20 minutes, or until sauce is thick. Keep warm. (Makes 2 cups.)
Place the chicken in a large zipper-lock bag with the rest of the ingredients and seal tightly. Allow to marinate at least 2 hours or as long as 12.
Grill until cooked and arrange on a warm platter. Pour the glaze over the chicken and serve immediately.
WATERMELON WALNUT BAGEL SPREAD
6 ounces whipped cream cheese
2 ounces walnut pieces, chopped
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup minced seedless watermelon
Mix together the cream cheese, walnuts and cinnamon. Just before using, mix in the watermelon. Spread liberally on toasted bagels.
Makes about 1½ cups, or enough for 4 toasted bagels.
ASIAN HONEY-SOY GLAZED WATERMELON BALLS
12 watermelon balls (cut with a melon baller)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1½ cups sugar
¾ cup oyster sauce
1/3 cup sherry
1/3 cup hot water
Place watermelon balls on two 10-inch skewers.
Roll in the confectioners’ sugar.
Mix the rest of the ingredients for the sauce until sugar is dissolved. Pour over watermelon balls and serve.
LEMONY QUINOA AND WATERMELON Salad
4 tablespoons agave syrup
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
4 tablespoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Salt, to taste
2 cups cooked black quinoa
2¾ cups watermelon cubes
1 kiwi, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons shredded coconut
½ cup candied pecans
Mint sprigs, for garnish
In a medium bowl, blend thoroughly the agave syrup, lemon juice, lemon zest, vinegar and salt. Add the quinoa and toss until fully coated. Set aside to allow flavors to blend.
Add the watermelon, kiwi, coconut and nuts. Toss.
Divide into four bowls and garnish each with a mint sprig.
flash-grilled watermelon-cheddar burgers
4 hamburger patties
4 slices white cheddar cheese
4 slices watermelon, about the same size as the burgers, seeded
1 tablespoon ground pepper
4 buns, toasted
Grill the hamburgers almost to desired doneness but 30 seconds before they are done, place a cheese slice atop each burger.
Place the watermelon slices on the grill and dust with the pepper to taste. Assemble the burgers on the buns with a slice of warmed watermelon on each burger on top of the cheese.
watermelon almonD tart
1 cup sliced almonds
1 3- to 5-inch-thick slice of seedless watermelon, rind removed
1 cup low- or no-fat natural vanilla-flavored yogurt
1 cup blueberries
1 cup sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon chocolate syrup
In a nonstick saute pan over medium heat, toast the almonds while constantly stirring to prevent burning. When they are golden, remove them to a heat-proof tray or foil to cool.
Cut the watermelon slice into 6 to 8 pie-shaped wedges. Dip the back (curved) side of each slice in the yogurt and then the almonds, reassembling the pieces on a serving platter as you complete each piece.
Frost the top of the reassembled watermelon with the remaining yogurt and decorate the top with the berries. Drizzle the chocolate syrup over the top. Serve cold.
Serves 6 to 8.
— Recipes from the National Watermelon Information Board
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or 702-383-0474.