SAN ANTONIO — Without a doubt, a cool, fresh wedge of watermelon is a summertime taste that delights kids of all ages. A little crunch, plenty of juicy sweetness and a little tartness — what's not to love?
When watermelons still have their ripe sweetness, they don't need any accompaniment, although there are plenty of folks who sprinkle it with a little salt.
Culinary Institute of America grad Michael Flores created some watermelon recipes for the Texas Watermelon Association while working for them. He said he didn't want to do any recipes for drinks, salsas or relishes.
"You see the salad with watermelon, arugula and feta," Flores said. "I didn't want to do that."
The idea hit him to do a grilled cheese "sandwich," but with halloumi, a cheese from Cyprus traditionally made with sheep and goats milk; it chars and doesn't melt on a grill. The watermelon serves as the "bread" surrounding the grilled cheese. It sounds a little funky but is quite tasty. Cut the sandwich into 1-inch pieces, secure them with a toothpick or a rosemary sprig, and it's party food that's sure to capture some attention.
Also, Flores decided to use a watermelon in different ways, such as puréeing it and using the water as a main ingredient in a tres leches cake, or julienning it and wrapping it in a spring roll.
"Why can't you put watermelon in a spring roll?" he asked.
In addition to the flavor and texture, watermelon packs some health benefits, including anti-oxidants and Vitamins A and C.
A couple of years ago, researchers at Texas A&M found that watermelon contains compounds that help increase blood flow and deliver Viagra-like effects. More watermelon, please?
Grilled cheese and watermelon sandwich
1 watermelon cut into 16 1/2-inch slices, each about the shape of a slice of bread
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 ounces arugula leaves
2 pounds halloumi cheese, cut into 8 1/2-inch slices
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Heat charcoal or gas grill to medium (350 to 450 degrees), using coals or gas burners under only half of the grill area, or heat grill pan over stove.
To trim watermelon, begin by slicing the ends, then turn on one of the flat ends and slice down. This will result in a melon that's easy to slice. (Save rinds for pickling, if desired.)
Cut trimmed watermelon into 16 bread-size slices and cut them in half, dividing between two trays. Season with salt and pepper. Divide arugula leaves among the watermelon slices on one tray and set aside.
Slice cheese and set aside.
Lightly brush both sides of the sliced cheese with extra-virgin olive oil and put them on a cookie sheet. Place the pan on the preheated grill, using care to avoid direct heat. Grill about 10 minutes, turning frequently until golden brown.
Assemble grilled cheese sandwiches by placing a grilled slice of cheese on top of a watermelon slice; top with arugula. Top with a second watermelon slice. Cut "sandwich" in half. Serve.
Makes 16 servings
Nutrition information per serving: 240 calories, 13 g. fat, 50 mg. cholesterol, 640 mg. sodium, 25 g. carbohydrates, 1 g. dietary fiber, 9 g. protein.
Summer rolls filled with watermelon
Rice paper (found in the ethnic aisle of supermarkets and Asian markets)
Red leaf lettuce
Fresh mint leaves
Fresh cilantro leaves
Fresh basil leaves
Thin rice noodles, cooked
Cooked shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed and cut in half from head to tail
Green bell pepper, julienned
Spicy peanut dipping sauce (recipe follows)
Gather and prepare all ingredients, including a container of hot water large enough to dip the rice paper in. To assemble summer olls, start by dipping rice paper (one at a time) in hot water just quickly enough to soften them. Lay rice paper on clean flat surface. Working from left to right, place a piece of lettuce in the center. Top with rows of mint, cilantro and basil, and follow with rice noodles, shrimp, watermelon, and a couple of pieces each of onion, carrot and bell pepper. Roll tightly, folding in sides like a burrito. Place in a container and cover with slightly damp cloth.
Repeat until you have the desired amount of summer rolls. Refrigerate until ready to eat (not more than several hours). Serve with peanut sauce.
Nutrition information per serving: 60 calories, 0 g. fat, 10 mg. cholesterol, 50 mg. sodium, 11 g. carbohydrates, 1 g. dietary fiber, 3 g. protein.
Spicy peanut dipping sauce
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 clove garlic, minced
31/2 ounces coconut milk or cream
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
Sambal Oelek chili paste, to taste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup rice vinegar
Juice from 1/2 orange
Juice from 1/4 lime
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon Maggi seasoning
Place all of the ingredients in a saucepan over medium-low heat. They will become easier to stir and combine as mixture heats. Continue to cook until everything has come together and formed one sauce. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in refrigerator. Refrigerated sauce should be rewarmed for a thin consistency.
Makes 16 2-tablespoon servings.
Nutrition information per serving (2 tablespoons): 90 calories, 6 g. fat, 0 mg. cholesterol, 260 mg. sodium, 6 g. carbohydrates, 1 g. dietary fiber, 2 g. protein.
Low-fat watermelon tres leches cake
1 cup watermelon "water" (see note)
1 package white cake mix
1⁄3 cup skim milk
3 large egg whites
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
14-ounce can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
8-ounce container fat-free whipped topping, thawed, or homemade whipped cream
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9-by-13-inch pan. Place watermelon water, cake mix, milk, egg whites and oil in a large mixing bowl; mix with spatula about 30 seconds. Beat with mixer at medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Pour into pan; bake for 35 minutes.
After the cake has cooled, punch holes in it using the pointed end of a wooden or metal skewer. Slowly pour sweetened condensed milk over cake and allow it to soak in.
Spread whipped topping over cake. Refrigerate until ready to eat. If desired, serve cake garnished with green strips of shaved watermelon rind.
Makes 16 servings.
Note: Make watermelon water by puréeing 2 cups cubed watermelon in a blender.
Nutrition information per serving: 270 calories, 7 g. fat, 5 mg. cholesterol, 270 mg. sodium, 46 g. carbohydrates, 0 g. dietary fiber, 4 g. protein.