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5 Easy Watermelon Treats for a Family 4th


“The hot Texas sun brings on a thirst that can only be quenched by delving into a delicious Texas watermelon,” write the authors of “Lone Star to Five Star: Culinary Creations for Every Occasion” (Favorite Recipes Press, 2004), who are also members of the Junior League of Plano.

How true.

watermelon1They go on to tell you how to pick out the best melon there is, whether you’re at the market or a roadside stand: “At the peak of ripeness a watermelon should be firm, symmetrical and heavy. Another sign of perfection is a creamy yellow spot on the underside of the melon indicating that it was sun-ripened. Watermelons are produced in almost every county in Texas and are harvested and sold throughout the world 11 months of the year.”

Since most of us Texans can’t spend a summer without a few melons, it would seem that cookbooks covering the state’s culinary gifts would be filled with ideas of what to do with this juicy fruit. But that’s not the case. I looked through more than 50 cookbooks, but only a handful of ideas showed up. Here are five simple treats, ranging from aguas frescas and salsa to salad and sorbet, that celebrate Texas at its boldest and most refreshing.

Minty Melon Pops

“Whenever you have melon, you rarely have just a little. You have lots of it,” writes Denise Gee in “Sweet on Texas” (Chronicle Books, $24.95, 2012). “This is a great way to use that leftover melon. Think of it as agua fresca on a stick. (And you know how we love our sticks o’ anything.)”

Mint-Lime Syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup losely packed fresh mint
1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Popsicles:
1 cup pureed watermelon (black seeds removed)
1 cup pureed honeydew melon
1 cup pureed cantaloupe

To make the syrup: Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and heat to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Add the mint and set aside; let cool to room temperature. Pour the mint syrup through a strainer into a clean container, add the lime juice and stir to combine. Refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

To make the popsicles: Using three medium bowls, keep the pureed melons separate.

Pour equal amounts of mint-lime syrup into each melon bowl and stir well.

Fill popsicle molds three-fourths full (leaving room for expansion) with individual melon mixes or a combination of them (see note). Set the lids in place and insert sticks through the holes. If you don’t have popsicle molds, fill small freezer-proof cups about three-fours full’; stretch plastic wrap across the top and affix with rubber bands. Make 1/2-inch slits in the center and insert sticks.

Freeze the popsicles until firmly set (3 to 4 hours).

Remove the popsicles by squeezing the sides of the molds or cups and twist slightly to disengage. If necessary, briefly rinse the outside of the molds or cups under hot water.

Note: For a layered, rainbow effect, freeze each mold, fitted with a stick, about third full and keep frozen for about 1 hour or more before adding the second layer of a different juice. Let it freeze for about 1 hour more before adding a third layer of a different juice, then freeze until completely firm.

Makes 16 servings.

From “Sweet on Texas” by Denise Gee

Watermelon Sorbet

This simple sorbet recipe, from Peg Hein’s “More Tastes and Tales from Texas … with Love” (1987), doesn’t require an ice cream maker or any special equipment.

4 cups watermelon chunks
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg whites
Additional sugar, if needed

Place watermelon chunks in a food processor or blender bowl. Puree until smooth. Remove seeds with a slotted spoon. You should have about 3 cups watermelon puree.

Add orange juice and sugar. Mix thoroughly and pour into a large flat bowl. Freeze until solid around edges but still slushy in the center. Stir until smooth. Beat egg whites until stiff, adding a little more sugar if needed. Fold into sorbet. Freeze for 1 to 1 1/2 hours without stirring. Serve in individual sherbet dishes or in small dessert bowls.

Makes 6-8 servings.

From “More Tastes and Tales from Texas … with Love” by Peg Hein

Refreshing Watermelon Delight (Refresco de Sandia)

“This fruit-flavored water, or aguas frescas, is especially delicious, and it looks beautiful served in a clear glass pitcher,” writes Diana Barrios Treviño in “Los Barrios Family Cookbook” (Villard, $18.95, 2002).

2 pounds watermelon (see note)
3 1/2 quarters Water
2 cups sugar
Remove the seeds from the watermelon, slice the flesh from the rind, and cut it into chunks. Transfer to a blender, in batches, if necessary, and blend for a few seconds; there should still be some small chunks of watermelon.

Combine the water and sugar in a large pitcher, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the watermelon puree, blending thoroughly. Refrigerate until chilled before serving.

Note: You can substitute cantaloupe for watermelon.

Makes 1 gallon.

Watermelon Salsa

This

2 cups coarsely chopped watermelon
1 cup roasted corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 large jalapeño, seeded and chopped
Juice of 1 lime

Combine the watermelon, corn, onions, jalapeño and lime juice in a bowl and mix gently. Chill until serving time.

Serve with tortilla chips, over salads or with grilled chicken or fish.

Makes 6 servings.

From “Lone Star to Five Star: Culinary Creations for Every Occasion” by the Junior League of Plano

Watermelon and Basil Salad with Goat Feta Cheese

“This is a unique summertime salad, especially when the Hempstead watermelons are at the ripe and flavorful best,” writes Terry Thompson-Anderson in “Texas on the Table” (University of Texas Press, $45, 2014). “It’s such a simple, easy-to-make salad, but the combination of flavors and textures is the real essence of a Texas summer.”

6 cups (1-inch) cubes of seedless Texas watermelon, grown in Hempstead, if possible
10 ounces crumbed Texas goat feta cheese
1/2 small red onion, sliced paper thin
1 cup fresh basil, cut in julienned strips
Texas extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Combine the watermelon chunks, goat feta and red onion in a bowl and toss to blend. Just before serving, cut the basil leaves and add to the salad. Add just enough olive oil to moisten the ingredients and salt to taste. Toss to blend in the basil and salt. Serve at once before the basil strips turn dark.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

From “Texas on the Table” by Terry Thompson-Anderson

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Chefs’ Corner: Joel Herrera’s Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole


Chefs have long enjoyed using watermelon in inventive, fun dishes that showcase its sweetness and it juicy texture.

Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

In this dish, Joel Herrera, a founder of the local chefs group, Los Cocineros, matches the summer favorite with pork belly.

But he doesn’t stop there.

He infuses the watermelon with jalapeño and whiskey. Then he adds sweet spices, including fennel, cinnamon, star anise and cardamom to the pork belly, creating an engaging counterpart to the watermelon.

If it all seems too much for a hot summer day, then let Herrera cook it for you. It’s on the menu of Los Cocineros’ upcoming pop-up dinner, which is set for 6 p.m. July 10-11 at Amaya’s Tacos & Bakery, 1502 E. Commerce St. The price is $35 a person and you can bring your own bottle.

To make a reservation, go to Los Cocineros Facebook page and select the date of your choice.

Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

Dry Rub:
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground fennel seed
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground black pepper

Pork:
1 1/2 pounds pork belly in one rectangular piece, at least 60 percent lean

Braising Liquid:
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic
3 whole tomatoes
2 cups dry white wine
1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick
1 whole star anise
2 whole juniper berries
1 cardamom pod
1 whole clove
1 quart chicken stock

For the Dry Rub: Combine salt, fennel, allspice and black pepper thoroughly. Rub onto all sides of the pork belly, place in a nonreactive pan and top with any remaining dry rub marinade over the meat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove pork belly from refrigerator and place in a roasting pan.

Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

Pork Belly and Watermelon with Kimchi Mole

To make the braising liquid: In a large saucepan, saute onion, carrot and celery in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and tomatoes and cook another 5 minutes. Add wine and cook until evaporated. Add cinnamon stick, star anise, juniper berries, cardamom, clove and chicken stock. Bring to a boil.

Pour hot braising liquid over pork belly. Cover and place in oven. Cook 3 1/2 hours or until completely tender when pierced with a fork. Note: The pork belly can be prepared up to this point and refrigerated in the braising liquid until ready to proceed.

Remove the belly from the braise and cool. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut belly into 4 portions. Saute in a hot skillet with a little oil for two minutes, fat side down. Finish warming in oven for 5 minutes.

Compressed Watermelon:
1 watermelon
1 jalapeño
¼ cup whiskey

Remove the watermelon rind and cut the watermelon flesh into slabs that are 8 inches square and about 1 inch thick. It is fine to have smaller slabs.

Place the slabs into several vacuum seal bags. Do not overlap. Spread the jalapeño slices over the watermelon and pour in the whiskey and vacuum seal the watermelon.

Place the bags into the fridge for an hour and drain when ready to plate.

Pickled Watermelon Rind:
Clean the rind and leave only the green of the skin, make a mixture of a cup of rice vinegar, 1 garlic clove, ½ tablespoon of peppercorns, ¼ cup of sugar and bring to a boil. Pour liquid over watermelon rinds and put the bowl in the fridge. These can hold for a couple of days and the longer they set the better.

Kimchi Mole:
1/3 cup Korean red pepper powder
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup peeled and minced fresh ginger (from about a 2-ounce piece)
1 tablespoon minced garlic cloves (from 6 to 8 medium cloves)
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups coconut milk
1 ancho chile
¼ cup lime juice

Bring red pepper powder, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, peanut butter, coconut milk, ancho chile and lime juice to a boil. Season to taste, blend and pass through a chinois or mill.

To plate the dish, arrange the Kimchi Mole on four plates. Cut the pork belly and slabs of watermelon into smaller pieces and arrange on each plate. Add a cube or two of pickled watermelon rind. Garnish as you see fit, with cucumber matchsticks, mint leaves, microgreens or whatever you like. Use either of the photographs accompanying this article as a starting point.

Makes 4 servings.

From Joel Herrera/Los Cocineros

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