The year I went to summer camp at Valley Mills, Texas, was also the summer I fell in love with watermelons. I was just off turning 9 and all along the blue highways of central Texas you’d find these big ol’ shacks by the side of the road that would sell ice cold watermelons out of dilpidated old vertical Coke coolers, full of ice and water. The melons would float on the surface and it was worth your life fishing one out, the water was so cold your hands nearly froze off.
Watermelons always meant summer when I was a kid, but you didn’t always come by them at the roadside tiendas. Some times, men in well-worn pickup trucks would just pull off a country highway and sell big, striped green watermelons out of the back of their trucks, just picked out of the patch that morning.
Though big slices of watermelon are still one of my favorite fruits, I seldom find one that tastes as good as those melons I “dined” on in Texas. Some friends of mine from Iran assure me that the best melons come from Persia, which is where the original watermelons first appeared. I haven’t tried an Iranian melon yet, but with summer coming on in the southern hemisphere, I thought it might be apt to suggest a few choice watermelon recipes from my childhood.
The first is this totally amazng chilled soup.
Southern Summer Gazpacho
4 pounds seedless watermelon, rind removed, cut into chunks (about 7 cups)
½ cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves
1 cup blanched slivered almonds
3 garlic cloves
4 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a blender, place the mint leaves topped by the watermelon chunks and puree. This may need to be done in batches.
Strain the watermelon puree through a wire mesh strainer into a pitcher or large bowl, scraping on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible and to remove any stray seeds.
In the blender, puree almonds, garlic, red wine vinegar and salt. Tear the bread into small chunks and place in blender with about 1 cup of watermelon puree. Puree until smooth, adding olive oil in a slow steady stream and watermelon puree (as much as the blender will hold).
Pour this gazpacho mixture into the remaining watermelon puree and stir until thoroughly blended. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 6 – 8
WATERMELON GINGER CELERY SHOOTERS
1 cup diced celery
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 cup diced seedless watermelon
Place the celery, ginger and vinegar in a blender and puree. Add the watermelon and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.
WATERMELON SALAD w/ MINT LEAVES
- 1 (5-pound) watermelon
- 1 Vidalia or other sweet onion
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
- 6 whole mint sprigs
Cut the flesh from the melon and cut into bite size pieces, removing and discarding the seeds, and set aside. Peel and slice the onion into rings.
In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, pepper, and whisk until salt is dissolved. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, a few drops at a time. Add in the chopped mint, taste, and adjust seasonings.
In a large bowl, combine the melon, onion, and feta. Pour the dressing over the melon mixture and toss gently until everything is coated and evenly mixed. Garnish with mint sprigs.
To serve, divide salad among individual plates and garnish with mint leaves.