Thunk, thunk. It’s melon season, and thank goodness! Nothing is easier to serve a hungry child (or adult, for that matter), and nearly nothing—margaritas and ice cream aside—takes the edge off the dog days of summer quite so well. So look for fat, gorgeous melons on roadside stands or at the farmers’ market. Here’s how to hunt, the tools you need, and how to enjoy these seasonal beauties.
Choosing and Storing:
Look for ripe melons with a strong, sweet fragrance that give slightly when pressed at both ends. (A fully ripe melon may have tiny cracks at the stem end.) Select orbs that are heavy for their size and free of deep blemishes, shriveled peel or soft, moldy areas. Keep an eye peeled for a large, pale yellow (but not white, soft or moldy) patch on one side of a watermelon, indicating it was left on the vine to ripen, and is therefore likely to be sweeter. To select the juiciest melons, knock on one and listen for a deep resonance. (It’s fun, and you’ll look like you know what you’re doing!)
Melons taste sweeter if served at room temperature or only slightly chilled, so pluck them from the fridge about 30 minutes before serving. Store ripe melons in the refrigerator for up to five days. To keep them moist, peel and cut off slices only as you need them. Pro tip: Though it will never be quite as sweet as vine-ripened, and underripe melon will sweeten slightly if left in a paper bag at room temperature for a few days. (An exception is the honeydew, which will stay only as sweet as it was when harvested!) Although best eaten as soon as possible, a whole watermelon can stay in the refrigerator (if you’ve got the room!) for up to one week. If it is too big to fit in the fridge, stash it in a cold, dark place for no more than three days. Cover cut pieces with plastic wrap or place in an airtight container. Ahh. No melons gone to waste; no melons left behind!
The key to eating more tasty melons is remembering how easy they can be to prepare, with the right tools! A tablespoon measurement won’t do; you must have a melon baller! The watermelon obsessive will appreciate this watermelon wedger (above), which slices up the melon into perfect slices in—blows on knuckles—20 seconds! There’s this knockout watermelon tap kit, for Instagrammable barbecues, and a special slicer, which stashes neatly in your gadget drawer. (Here’s another super-cool melon slicing option!) Oh, and if you want to peel that cantaloupe or honeydew, go with these excellent soft fruit peelers.
1. Melon and Fig Salad with Basil Cream
When people battle about which fruit constitutes “nature’s candy,” surely they have something like this salad in mind. Dreamboat figs nestle next to candy-sweet cantaloupe and honeydew. Cream, lemon and mint provide silky, bright counterparts. It’s one of the summeriest things you can eat.
2. Watermelon and Feta Salad with Mint and Lime
It’s hot, but don’t get so distractible and overheated you forget about the classics. Watermelon salad with feta and mint is a hit for a reason! It’s four ingredients, including lime, to balance out watermelon’s super-sweetness. The melon juice gets on the cheese; the mint brightens up the whole thing; we are so hungry.
Is it possible to improve upon a traditional mango lassi? Maybe not, but this smoothie sure gives it a shot. It’s got melon plus cantaloupe, yogurt for the hit of protein you want in the morning, and cardamon, orange juice and honey to round things out. It’s equally good at 3 in the afternoon, on a balcony overlooking the water.
4. Grilled Salmon with Spicy Melon Salsa
Don’t say we never did anything nice for you. If you’ve never had grilled salmon with ripe melon, the two are as delightful together as vanilla and chocolate. This knockout dish brims with watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew. Serrano chile, lime and cilantro keep things fresh and fiery at once. All you need is a grill or a grill pan.
Don’t panic. We’re not giving you homework in the middle of summer. These soups comprise just six ingredients and one blender, which you rinse between making them. The trick is in the presentation; some guests have hidden chilled honeydew soup, while others have hidden chilled canteloupe soup. The two cuddle together in one bowl for the lightest, most delightful summer treat.
6. Melon, Pineapple and Jicama Salad
You couldn’t choose among the melons at the market. You seem to have bought them all. Great! Put that bounty to best use in this riff on mango-with-chile-and-lime that’s so common in Latin American and Mexican cuisines. Watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew and jicama are all here, waiting for their bath of lime, lemon, salt, red pepper flakes, and cilantro. This is what you want when the temperature soars past 80.
7. Pickled Melon with Prosciutto, Basil and Mint
Don’t you… forget about meat. This salad (is it a salad?) features that beloved prosciutto-and-melon combo. It’s hearty enough to be lunch, and bright enough (thanks to mint, white wine vinegar and basil) to feel cooling and elegant at once.
Melon already feels like dessert. We get it. But watermelon-lime-basil granita takes the flavors you know and love, mingles them gorgeously, gets them icy cold, and saves you from the heat. It’s that simple. Would that everything was in the summer.