What a melon! -By Catherine Rhea Roy
We can begin to feel the summer – whether it is the dry heat of Dubai or the sweltering one of Miami – we know the season has changed. You can tell by the prickly heat that rises on the back of your neck, the constant whirring of fans or air conditioners or both, and by the piles of oranges that have been replaced by stacks of oblong, scrumptious watermelons. Easily one of the most underrated fruits, come summer and the watermelon loses out to the alphonso as a season favourite. However, it is steadfast, nutritious, and surprisingly versatile forming perfect combinations in unlikely places.
Watermelons can be easily cut up into slices or squares to keep you going through the day, especially if you like to snack in between meals. With its low caloric content, the fruit is great for weight loss if that’s on the agenda this season; it is also packed with antioxidants that fight the free radicals in our body. It is a tasty, delightful supply of sodium, potassium, electrolytes and vitamin B, as well, which makes it a powerhouse of nutrients. It is a fantastic disease fighter taking on a few battles of its own – asthma, heart disease and arthritis. And the water content of the fruit makes it the perfect companion during the summer, rejuvenating your body with all the minerals and nutrients you may have lost in sweat and exhaustion. Watermelons are also an absolute joy to eat except for some bothersome seeds that need to be spat out from time to time. But that’s the way nature intended it, let’s not fight it or try to control it.
The fruit also has a beautiful colour scheme – the deep dark green of the rind, the pale white flesh that cushions it, and the crunchy yet soft pulp dotted with little black pips. This makes watermelon a popular choice in gourmet cooking whether it is to add some colour to your plate or to bring in its subtle flavour and unique texture.
Breakfast bowl for all
Chef Bhuvan Ravishankar from the kitchen of the Oberoi Hotel has released us from the burden of the bored mixed fruit bowl or plain old fruit plate. Their nutritious breakfast bowl is a combination of musk melon, watermelon, and almonds and
walnuts caramelised in honey. The mixed melon salad is one of their most popular items for breakfast. But they also keep the recognisable coolers that infuse watermelon and basil, and make the summers a bit more bearable for everyone involved.
Cocktails and dreams of watermelon
Include watermelon into your cocktail and watch it bloom. A favourite is the watermelon mojito, a twist on the classic mojito. Adding watermelon not only ups the freshness of the drink but also gives it the most glorious effect with pieces of red watermelon that are being tossed around by the fizzy bubbles of soda. Chef Ravishankar also does the frat party favourite – the vodka watermelon – where vodka is injected into a watermelon, cling wrapped and frozen. The alcohol soaks into the fruit and makes for a heady bite.
Fruit salad with a twist
Fruit in food is always a bit bizarre, it doesn’t matter how you feel about pineapple in your pizza, it is weird. But the neutral taste of chunks of watermelon is the perfect ally or any dressing. Just ask Chef Saurabh Arora of Smoke House Deli and Social, who gives us a fine example of watermelon in food with the extremely popular watermelon and feta salad. The rocket leaves, feta and watermelon are lightly tossed in a dressing of vinegar and oil and finished off with some rich balsamic – best use of fruit ever!
Stirring Up an Appetite
Chef Yogen Datta at the ITC Gardenia loves the way watermelon reacts in a vaccum pack. The airy watermelon is easily compressed and concentrates the flavour of the fruit. The texture of the watermelon after compression is very similar to that of tuna flakes, which the chef uses to top off a crab salad appetizer and recommends to go with alcohol.
Who knew watermelon could be great for a light and refreshing gazpacho? Now that we think about it, yes, but Chef Arora is a fan of the watermelon gazpacho and introduced the idea, and now it needs to be done. A cold summer soup, quite like the tomato gazpacho, the watermelon too makes the cut for its light, juicy and slightly sweet flavour, and will be quite perfect for the summer heat.
Save the peel
Chef Varun Pereira of Sly Granny in his vast experience has come across pickled watermelon rinds, which is popular in the south style cooking in America. It seems obvious once he breaks it down for us – if we peel off the green skin it saves the white fleshy part, which stores well in brine. It can be served either as a dressing for salad, or anywhere you might need an added crunch, similar to that of a cucumber. Chef Pereira has had a few other ideas too that involve grills and watermelon served hot but that’s for when he’s playing around the kitchen.
Well folks, it’s not going to be an easy summer. Climate change is a reality and the heat is going to make things very uncomfortable. But at least we still have watermelons and their glorious, refreshing company to see us through.