Six Recipes to Make the Most of Summer's Watermelon

This is high season for watermelon, a food that invariably cheers you up and is rich in nutrition, too.

If I’ve given the impression in previous columns that I am disdainful of sweet flavors, now is the time and the season to sing its praises. And the king of sweet summer foods is undoubtedly the watermelon. It’s hard to think of anything else that is so sweet and so good. Not just because it’s so tasty and juicy and instantly boosts your mood and dispels gloom; it also contains an impressive amount of fat-free nutritional value. Watermelon can compete with the tomato in lycopene content, and it’s also rich in Vitamins B and C. It helps clean the digestive system, boosts the immune system, has a positive effect on the nervous system and improves blood pressure, blood flow and cardiac activity.

The watermelons of May and June aren’t quite at their peak, but July is just the time to find the best watermelon. Nutrition guides recommend eating watermelon on its own or combined with other types of melon. Another suggestion is to eat it four hours after a meal that contains protein and starches. Watermelon is also suitable for babies. And you can easily make delicious juice with it – just crush it in a mixer and strain.

Having already stated how good it is just as is, I’m almost reluctant to make other culinary suggestions that might overshadow its flavor. But for those who want more variety and want to eat more watermelon and fewer unhealthy sweets, here are some ideas:

Herb shake

Ingredients:

1 cup mint leaves

some basil and parsley

2 cups watermelon cubes

Place all the ingredients in the mixer and blend until smooth.

Watermelon lemonade

Ingredients:

5 cups seedless watermelon cubes

water as needed

juice of 3 lemons

mint leaves

Place the watermelon and lemon juice in a food processor and process until mashed. Add water until the mixture becomes as liquid as desired. Serve in tall glasses filled halfway with ice cubes. Garnish with mint leaves.

Salad with watermelon

Ingredients:

¼ cup lemon juice

½ cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

1 large ripe but firm papaya, peeled,

pitted and diced (about 3 cups)

an equal amount of watermelon cubes

(without seeds)

an equal amount of avocado cubes

4 cups chopped herbs – whatever kind you like

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and serve.

Watermelon gazpacho

Ingredients:

8 cups watermelon cubes

(without seeds)

2 peeled cucumbers

1 red pepper

½ cup finely chopped basil leaves

½ cup lemon juice

½ cup finely chopped red onion

½ cup olive oil

½ avocado

Place all ingredients except the basil in a food processor and process until a thick soup is obtained. Pour into bowls and garnish with the basil.

Watermelon ice

Remove the peel and seeds from a watermelon. Cut into cubes and crush well in a blender. Transfer to ice cube trays and freeze.

Watermelon flotilla

Ingredients:

4 cups watermelon cubes

1 small purple cabbage

4 cups mixed salad greens

1 cup arugula leaves

1 cup cashew crumbs (put the cashews in a food processor and process until a crumbly texture is obtained)

½ cup lemon juice

¼ cup olive oil

Separate the cabbage leaves into little “boats” and arrange them on a serving dish. Combine the lemon juice and olive oil. Place the arugula in one bowl and toss the mixed greens in another. Season the arugula with the lemon juice and olive oil mixture. Line each “boat” with a layer of arugula leaves. Place two watermelon cubes on top, sprinkle on the cashew crumbs and “close” the boats with a generous handful of mixed greens.

Fruit or vegetable?

An ancient question: Is the watermelon a fruit or a vegetable? There are all kinds of ways to differentiate between fruits and vegetables, and the most common is the definition of a fruit as growing on a tree, shrub or climbing plant, while a vegetable grows on or below the ground. According to this definition, and contrary to popular notion, watermelon – a member of the gourd family that grows on the ground – is a vegetable. The same goes for strawberries too, by the way. Watermelon is also mentioned in the Bible – just once – among the types of vegetables the Israelites ate in Egypt:  “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Numbers 11:5). The Chinese treat the watermelon as a vegetable – grilling it and pickling it.

Yet despite all the botanical justifications, for anyone who grew up in Israel, watermelon is not just a fruit, it is the fruit – the one that’s identified more than any other with hot sunny days, the beach and summer vacation.