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Wednesday, August 10

Gapers Block

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The joy of summer has faded into the dog days of summer. The days when people in Chicago (who get such a short summer anyway) would rather spend a day in a movie theater than outside enjoying the sun and heat they look forward to in January.

Which means that I don't know anyone without air conditioning who is at home cooking up big meals. I heard two co-workers talking about whether it was more pathetic to have cheese and crackers for dinner or to just eat peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon.

In the interest of keeping your kitchen as cool as possible, I thought I would present a few recipes for you to use with one of the season's fruits that are coming ripe now. Watermelons are something usually served plain, but they can be combined with other ingredients to create an uncooked part of a meal.

First you have to know how to pick a ripe one. This is harder than it seems. Even professional watermelon growers have been eagerly awaiting a device that can tell if watermelons are ripe without cutting into them. And there is a device in testing that will thump a watermelon and measure the sound waves that emanate from it to determine if it is ripe.

But since this device doesn't sit at the grocery store, here are a few other tips. If the watermelon sounds hollow when thumped, it is hopefully ripe. You may have to test several before you can tell the difference. If the spot where the watermelon sat on the ground is white, pass it by. Once it turns yellow, it should be ripe. For many varieties, but not all, the stripes on a ripe watermelon have less contrast than those on an unripe watermelon.

Once you have a ripe watermelon, what are some of the things you can do with it? You could make watermelon ice, salsa, soup, and watermelon cups with a raw salmon salad.

Watermelon Ice
1 small watermelon
3 tablespoons of honey
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Cut the watermelon into chunks and remove the red part (the flesh) of the melon. Remove the seeds if it isn't seedless and put the chunks in the blender. Once it is filled halfway, add the honey, lemon and salt. Puree for several seconds until smooth. Pour out most of the mixture into a bowl. Leave some of the liquid in the blender to make it easier to blend the next batch of melon chunks. Once you have everything pureed and into the bowl, stir to combine the seasonings. Depending on the size of your freezer, you'll use either two small baking dishes or one large one. Distribute the liquid evenly and place the containers flat in the freezer and let them set for 30 to 40 minutes. The mixture should be half frozen. Pour the contents into a large mixing bowl and use a mixer at high speed to make the mixture fluffy. Pour it back into your dishes and let it freeze for about 1 1/2 hours. Use a fork to scrape the surface of the ice block and serve immediately in small cups. If it starts to melt before you can serve it, pop them back into the freezer for about 15 minutes to firm up. This will keep in your freezer for about a week.

Watermelon Salsa
1 small seedless watermelon
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 bunch of cilantro
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
1/2 of a red onion
1 jalapeno (optional)

Cut the watermelon in half. Scoop the flesh out of each half and place it in a bowl. Keep one half of the watermelon rind to use as a serving bowl if you're doing this for a party. Chop the flesh into small pieces and reserve half a cup to a cup of the watermelon juice. Rinse the cilantro and remove any dark pieces. The stems of cilantro actually contain more flavor than the leaves, so throw the whole bunch in your blender or food processor. Add the salt and balsamic vinegar. Pulse until the cilantro is chopped fine and add as much of the watermelon juice as you need to get the cilantro to puree. Mince the red onion and the jalapeno (remove the seeds to reduce the heat) and stir these into the cilantro mixture. You can pulse this in the blender to make the pieces smaller if you prefer a less-chunky salsa. Pour all of this over the watermelon pieces and toss to combine. Scoop into the watermelon half and refrigerate for an hour or two to chill. Serve quickly since this won't keep for more than a day before getting slimy.

Watermelon Soup
1/2 of a small seedless watermelon
1 pear, chopped fine
1 small yellow onion, chopped fine
1/2 of a green pepper, chopped fine
2-3 tablespoons of fresh basil, chopped fine (or 1 teaspoon of dried basil)
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Cut the watermelon into chunks and place in a blender. Puree until smooth and pour into a serving bowl. Add in the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Let it sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour so the flavors merge. Serve chilled. Makes 2-3 servings that keep for about 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

Watermelon Cups with Spicy Salmon Salad
So I read this post at What We're Eating and decided that I liked the idea. The salad they came up with sounded great, but I wanted something more dinner-like. Sushi is great for hot days, but making sushi rice involves cooking. Since the watermelon melon cup eliminated the need for rice, it inspired a great dinner. Purchase sashimi grade salmon at places like The Fish Guy (Elston and Irving), Dirk's Fish and Gourmet Shop (2070 N. Clybourn Ave.) or Mitsuwa (100 E. Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights). But don't get it on Monday because you'll be getting fish that was delivered to the store on Saturday. Do you want to eat two-day-old raw fish? The only piece of odd hardware that will make your job easier (besides a large, sharp knife) is a melon-baller. You think you'll never use it, but you'll find things to do with it. And it only costs $3-$5.

1/4 pound of sushi-grade salmon filet, or chopped salmon
1/2 cup of finely chopped jicama
1 teaspoon of sriracha (or less, depending on how spicy you'd like)
1 tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoon of sesame oil
1 teaspoon of rice wine vinegar
1 small seedless watermelon
sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds or green tobiko for garnish

If you have a filet of salmon, slice it into quarter-inch thick slices. Cut these slices until you get 1/4" cubes. If you get salmon chunks, cut away any bits that look inedible and cut the pieces until they're about 1/4" square. Place them into a glass or ceramic bowl. Peel your jicama and cut it into 1/4"-inch thick slices and then into 1/4" cubes and add it to the salmon. In a small bowl combine the sriracha, cilantro, sesame oil and vinegar and pour over the salmon. Stir until evenly coated. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Place this in the refrigerator to keep cold and until you have the watermelon cups prepared.

Cut the watermelon in half. Cut the halves into half. You should have four quarters. Place these flat-side down on your cutting board and cut them into 2-inch slices. Once you have slices, cut along the line that separates the white rind from the flesh. Discard the rind and cut the pieces into pieces that are about 2-3 inches in diameter. You can cut perfect cubes (although I know my ability to do this is poor) or you can just cut random shapes that look like you intended for them to be random shapes. Take your melon baller and scoop out a bit of the center. You can either do a whole ball, or a half ball depending on how many you want to make. If your watermelon gets too juicy as you're working with it, put everything into the refrigerator for about 30 minutes and continue. Depending on the temperature, you may want to work only with one quarter of the melon at a time.

Now use a small spoon to scoop some of the salmon mixture into your watermelon cups. Place them on a tray and cover them loosely with plastic wrap until you're ready to serve them. Sprinkle them with the toasted sesame seeds, the green tobiko, or even a light sprinkle of sea salt before serving.

By using your imagination and ingredients that are in season, you can sate your appetite without heating up your home. And if this all seems like too much work, cut off a chunk of watermelon and stand over your sink with a salt-shaker nearby. Just a light sprinkle of salt on the watermelon will actually make it taste even sweeter.

Got any watermelon tips or no-cook recipes to share? Leave them in the comments.

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dan / August 13, 2007 7:30 AM

It's all about the watermelon sorbet with chocolate chips, served in the rind such that it looks like a slice of watermelon.

dawn welsh / August 13, 2007 2:29 PM

cucumber and watermelon like each other very much- perhaps watermelon/cucumber gazpacho? shallots, lime juice, cilantro~yum! also, different types of heirloom melons blended together are gorgeous. check out green city market.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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