Watermelon salads have become very popular on restaurant menus and, increasingly, in online recipes and cookbooks. Some are excellent, some are misguided, and all benefit from choosing the best ingredients. This means avoiding seedless watermelons, which are grown not for flavor but for their lack of seeds.
Watermelon salads — along with salsas and soups — are best when the melon is given center stage. When you add ingredients that eclipse the crisp delicacy of watermelon, you often end up with something muddled and without much true flavor.
For watermelon salsa, gazpacho and salads, don’t use tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, cream or mayonnaise, all of which eclipse the flavor and texture of the melon. If you’re going to the trouble of using watermelon, let it shine.
It’s early for local melons, which in most years don’t appear until late August. They’ll probably show up earlier this year, but there aren’t any yet. For more watermelon recipes from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.
If you have tasted commercial watermelon vinaigrettes, you are likely underwhelmed. Most are too sweet and have little taste of watermelon itself.
This dressing, from “Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings” (Harvard Common Press, 2013), focuses on the lean, bright flavor of watermelon itself, with other ingredients playing supporting roles. Enjoy it on beet carpaccio; roasted beet salad; halibut carpaccio with microgreens; halibut gravlax; arugula and feta salad; a salad of julienned jicama, carrots, and radish; and fruit salad with whipped ricotta or whipped feta.
Makes about 1¼ cups
1 cup fresh watermelon juice (see Notes below)
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 teaspoon minced and seeded serrano or jalapeño chile
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice or white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons simple syrup (see Notes below)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
— Black pepper in a mill
Put the juice in a small bowl or jar, add the onion, chile, lime juice, simple syrup and salt and stir. Taste, and correct for salt and acid. Stir in the olive oil, add the cilantro and season with several turns of black pepper. Chill for 30 minutes before serving. This vinaigrette is best the day it is made.
Notes: For 1 cup watermelon juice, you’ll need about 21/2 cups diced watermelon. Simply cut open a melon, scoop out the flesh and cut it into small dice. Put the diced watermelon into a strainer set over a deep bowl, and stir the watermelon now and again as it drains, 20 to 30 minutes. Occasionally crush the watermelon gently with the side of a spoon, but do not press it through the strainer. Strain the juice before using.
Simple syrup, sold in many stores as bar syrup, is easy to prepare at home. To make it, combine equal quantities of granulated sugar and water in a saucepan set over high heat. Do not stir. Simmer until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is entirely clear, not cloudy, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool, pour into a bottle or jar and refrigerate. Stored properly, simply syrup keeps almost indefinitely.
This chilled soup is as refreshing as the coastal fog that sometimes cools us on a hot afternoon and is especially welcome when that fog doesn’t show up. For best results, use the heart of the watermelon, which has the most concentrated flavors. When creating watermelon purée, do not use a blender or food processor, as both incorporate air and create unpleasant foam.