Market Mondays – Melons

Sometimes, I’m not so bright. Because when I made up the list of fruit and veg to include in this column, I mostly based it on what would be in season. Which is the point of the whole thing (we’ll start covering meat and dairy and spices and such in the winter after the fall harvest), except for the fact that I didn’t really think too much about recipes.

Or more importantly, that there are a few seasonal items, such as melon, that you just don’t cook with all that much. Think about it – chilled soup, salsa, a few cocktails, fruit salad… maybe some cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto. Whoops.

So what I have for you today is two different recipes for watermelon gazpacho, both from fabulous local chefs, and (thankfully) different enough that you can pick which one you’d prefer to make based on the other ingredients. Or make them both and do a taste test.

Melons are members of the cucurbitaceae, and are closely related to squash. There are many varieties of melon including various types of watermelon, muskmelons, bitter melon and even papaya. Bitter melon and winter melons are typically used in savoury dishes and are typical to Asian cuisines.

Different melons have different origins, with watermelon being thought to have originated in Africa, while muskmelons are native to Persia. Both types of melon have been cultivated over the years with varieties that include yellow-fleshed fruit or seedless varieties for watermelon (over 1200 varieties in all) and a range of flavour intensity for the muskmelon family that includes cantaloupes, honeydews, Santa Claus melons and the much sought after Charentais melon which is the one most traditionally served with prosciutto.

Most melons are high in both Vitamins A and C and get bonus points for anti-oxidants and fibre. The watermelon is also known for high quantities of lycopene which may aid in the prevention of various types of cancers.

When purchasing melons, look for ones that are heavy for their size. With watermelons, look for an area of a lighter colour and sometimes a rougher texture – this is where the melon has been lying on its side. Otherwise look for smooth, even skin. For members of the muskmelon family, look for unblemished skin and a creamy colour, as well as a sweet melon smell. Note that some varieties of musk melon have a distinct “musky” smell – get to know  your melon varieties and talk to the farmer selling them about what you’re looking for in terms of sweetness and flavour.

When preparing melon, always wash the exterior as even organic melons may have come in contact with pesticides or manure. Many of the nutrients in melons, watermelons in particular, are in the area nearest to the skin (this is the white part on a watermelon) so don’t be afraid to eat it all. And of course, pickled watermelon rinds are a delicacy in many parts of the Southern US.

Watermelon Gazpacho
from Jason Bangerter, Executive Chef, Oliver & Bonacini

This soup can also be enjoyed as mix for a refreshing summer cocktail.

4 cups watermelon seeded and; diced
2 cups vine ripe or Heirloom tomatoes diced
1/2 cup red bell peppers diced
1 celery stick peeled and sliced
1 shallot sliced
1 tsp. fresh minced ginger
1/8 cup rice wine vinegar
1-1/2 limes, juiced
6 leaves of mint, chopped
8 leaves of basil, chopped
12 leaves of coriander, chopped
Tabasco, salt and pepper to taste

In a pan (low heat) sweat shallot, ginger and celery until tender and translucent.

Remove from heat and add herbs and liquid ingredients to infuse flavours.

Toss all remaining ingredients in a food processor with flavoured liquid. Blend smooth.

Strain the soup using a fine sieve and chill.

Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and, if you want a little zip to the soup, Tabasco (green).

Be sure to serve this soup chilled. Garnish each serving with a teaspoon of roasted black pepper yogurt or poached seafood salad and a few drops extra virgin olive oil.

Peppered Watermelon Gazpacho
from Chef Karen Viva Haynes, Viva Tastings & 6 Degrees

A great balance of savoury, spicy and sweet that is the perfect summer heat antidote. We serve them frozen as tiny popsicles at garden parties.

Serves 6 for a first course OR serves 18 as an hors d’oeuvre served in a shot glass.
NOTE: Chilling makes flavours less pronounced, so make sure to adjust the vinegar and salt for balance before serving.

1/2 red pepper
1/2 yellow pepper
1 medium red onion
1 granny smith apple, cored
4 green onions
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro OR parsley
3 lb of fresh ripe seedless watermelon
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Chunk the peppers, red onion, and apple and set aside in separate piles. Chop the green onion and cilantro fine and set aside.

Using a food processor, pulse the peppers, red and green onion and cilantro and coarsely chop them into small bits, but do note purée. Pour mixture into large bowl.

Process apple into small bits and add to vegetables.

Trim the rind from the watermelon and chunk the flesh.

Process flesh in batches until pureed, empty each batch into bowl of vegetables.

Stir in lemon juice, balsamic and olive oil. Add salt and freshly growing black pepper to taste.

Chill before serving and correct the seasoning as per the note.