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Watermelon puts its zing in 4 recipes

Watermelon puts its zing in 4 recipes

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The Eagle/Dave McDermand

Watermelon can be used in may dishes, including Watermelon and Feta Salad (above).

By DIANE LESTINA

Special to The Eagle

You know summer has arrived when you see watermelon pyramids in stores and in pickups parked on the roadside.

Are there any tricks to picking the sweetest watermelon? According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, a ripe melon will feel heavy for its size and be firm. Mark Scarmardo from the Farm Patch in Bryan looks for a creamy color on the bottom side indicating a more mature and ripe specimen. But you won't know for sure until you cut into your melon and taste it.

Should you go with a seeded or seedless melon? That's up to you.

Store uncut watermelon at room temperature and use cut melon within two to three days. Store cut watermelon in the refrigerator sealed inside two layers of plastic wrap because it tends to absorb refrigerator flavors.

Juicy sliced watermelon running down your chin is definitely a summertime delicacy, but don't stop there. You can use watermelon in many dishes, soup, salad, sorbet and more. Here are some recipes to get you started.

Watermelon and Feta Salad

This refreshing salad is a perfect use for leftover watermelon. To vary it: Replace the mint with basil or parsley. Replace the balsamic vinegar with sherry vinegar, champagne vinegar or lime juice. Add toasted pine nuts. Use goat cheese instead of feta.

6 cups seedless watermelon cut into 1/2-inch cubes (14-pound watermelon)

1 sweet onion (such as Texas 1015) thinly sliced

1/2 pound feta cheese - preferably fresh (see note)*

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 tablespoons thinly sliced mint leaves

Freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, combine the watermelon, onion and feta with salt. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar. Toss gently to coat evenly.

To serve, divide salad among individual plates, garnish with mint leaves and several grinds of black pepper. Or serve it family style: Put the salad on a serving platter and garnish with mint and black pepper.

* The Farm Patch Meat Market in Bryan is one source for fresh feta.

Thai-Spiced Watermelon Soup

My guests love this Gourmet magazine (2004) recipe, saying it's "refreshing," "an amazing combination of flavors" and "perfect for a summer evening." Serve it hot or chilled. (I prefer chilled.)

5 cups coarsely chopped seeded watermelon (from a 4-pound piece, rind discarded)

1 teaspoon lemongrass paste*

3 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger

1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

1 small Serrano chile, finely chopped (including seeds), or to taste

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste

3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

10 ounces jumbo lump crab meat (2 cups), picked over

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

1 1/2 tablespoons mild olive oil

1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Accompaniment: lime wedges

To make the soup, purŽe watermelon in a blender until smooth and transfer to a bowl. (Don't wash blender.)

Cook lemongrass, shallot, ginger and garlic in oil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring, until aromatics are pale golden, about 5 minutes. Add about a third of the watermelon purŽe and simmer over moderate heat, stirring, 5 minutes.

Remove watermelon mixture from heat. Transfer to blender along with chile, lime juice and salt. Blend until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids).

Add remaining watermelon purŽe and blend briefly. Season soup with more chile, lime juice and salt if desired, blending if necessary. Pour soup through a sieve into a bowl, pressing on and then discarding any solids. Chill soup, uncovered, about 2 hours if serving cold, or reheat in cleaned saucepan.

To prepare the crab, toss crab meat with cilantro, oil and salt.

Divide crab among 4 soup plates, mounding in center, and pour soup around it.

Notes:

1. Soup can be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Cover after 2 hours of chilling.

2. Crab meat can be picked a day ahead, and crab mixture can be prepared 1 hour before serving. Then chill it, covered.

3. You can find lemongrass paste in the produce sections of Bryan-College Station H-E-B stores. Fresh minced lemongrass can be substituted.

Makes 4 first-course servings.

Watermelon-Injected Pork

with Watermelon Salsa

Notes: A food injector can be found in local food stores. For best results, inject the meat the day before and store in an airtight plastic bag with extra marinade. If you don't have an injector, poke a few holes with a fork in the pork and just marinate tenderloin overnight.

The original recipe from Austin calls for a Granny Smith apple in the salsa, but I prefer using 2 tomatillos instead.

For marinade:

3 cups diced watermelon meat (approximately, to yield 2 cups juice)

3 jalape–os (leave jalape–o ribs and seeds in for maximum heat; remove for less)

1 tablespoon salt

2 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup Midori liqueur (optional)

2 pounds pork tenderloin

Salt and pepper

Seed and then puree watermelon and jalape–os in a blender. Strain mixture through a sieve and return to the blender. If you won't inject the tenderloin, no need to strain marinade.

Add salt, sugar and Midori liqueur. Blend for 2 minutes.

Reserve 1 cup for basting.

Draw marinade into syringe-type injector. Poke and inject marinade throughout tenderloin.

After marinating, season the meat with salt and pepper.

Have coals prepared on the grill and use the combination technique of direct and indirect heat: Roll the tenderloin over the direct heat to establish grill marks and then move to a slower part of the grill to finish cooking without burning. With gas grills, turn front burners on high to establish grill marks, and then move to the back.

Baste the tenderloin periodically while cooking.

Cook the tenderloin to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. (Despite your mother's warnings to cook pork to 170 degrees, 137 degrees will kill off anything that might harm you.) Allow the meat to rest 5 minutes and then slice into medallions. Serve with Watermelon Salsa.

Watermelon Salsa

2 cups watermelon, seeded and diced fine

1 Granny Smith apple, diced fine

1 red onion, julienned

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 mango, peeled and diced

2 jalape–os, seeded and diced fine

1 bunch cilantro, leaves only

2 tablespoons sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

2 limes, juice only

Splash of rice wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients and chill well.

Recipe from Cooking Fearlessly: Recipes and Other Adventures from Hudson's on the Bend by chefs Jeff Blank and Jay Moore (Fearless Press, 1999, $32.95).

n Diane Lestina, a certified personal chef, holds cooking classes in the Bryan-College Station area. To learn more, visit www.chefdiane.com.

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