Early watermelons are starting to appear at the markets, and I was excited to get my hands on one of my favorite fruits this past week. I wanted to serve it as a light, refreshing dessert at a mid-week meal. But when I cracked it open, I found it disappointingly pale in color and flavor. What to do? Well, there are a few things you can do to jazz up a weak watermelon and make it vibrant enough to stand on its own as dessert for any meal.
I took a tip from the practice of salting watermelon, which concentrates the juice and makes the sweetness more pronounced. Sugar has a similar effect, so I put out a couple tablespoons of sugar, along with the zest of a lemon and a couple handfuls of fresh mint leaves.
I cut up about half of a small watermelon in thick slices, and layered the watermelon slices on a plate. As I layered the wedges, I very lightly sprinkled the slices with sugar. Then I rubbed some zest over the layer and sprinkled with chiffonaded mint. I did this to each layer of the watermelon slices, finishing off the dish with a full sprig of mint.
Then I covered the plate with plastic wrap and (this is important!) refrigerated it until dinner — about an hour and a half.
The result? Ice cold watermelon that had soaked up the bit of sugar and all that mint for a refreshing blend of flavors right there in the fruit. It tasted slightly tangy from the lemon, so sweet from the mint. It was an improvement, if I may say so, over the original flavor of the melon.
This got me thinking, too; watermelon is such a great sponge for flavor (and alcohol, as some of us may know!). It would be a shame to mess with a truly ripe and full-bodied melon, but these weaker, paler melons of early summer or of over-watered gardens might be redeemed with some interesting flavor infusions. Syrups, herbs, and herbed sugar could all be very fun to play around with!
Other than eating straight, what's your favorite recipes for watermelon?
Related: Summer Eating: How Do You Slice a Whole Watermelon?
(Image: Faith Durand)