Watermelon is summer. It's wet, sticky and sweet, but it manages to cool and hydrate during the hot weather. Days spent spitting seeds as children or infusing a melon with vodka for a party as an adult are all part of the summer experience, but what most of us do with watermelon is limited. It's mainly eaten raw, but it can be so much more.
Watermelon, which is high in cancer-fighting agent lycopene and vitamins A, B6 and C, is often used as an ingredient in salads, drinks and sorbets, but don't overlook its possibilities on the grill. Grilled watermelon is an ethereal delight. If you crossed the caramelized richness of creme brulee with pink cotton candy and warm honey, you would only start to pick out the complex flavors that come out when you grill watermelon. This is an uncomplicated recipe that features red and yellow watermelons. Both colors of watermelon are available at your local farmers' market from now until October.
Grilled watermelon salad with mint and queso fresco
Makes: 10 servings
3 pounds watermelon, sliced into 1 1/2-inch thick round steaks (rind left on)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup mint, minced
juice of 1 lemon
4 ounces crumbled queso fresco (a cheese available at most farmers' markets or groceries)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Rub the outside of the watermelon steaks with olive oil and place over red-hot coals, a gas grill on high or a grill pan that's been heating for a while on the stove. Grill steaks for 5-6 minutes per side until there are good grill marks on the steaks. (Don't try for cross-hatches: That will just overcook the watermelon.) Remove the watermelon from the heat and let it cool to the touch. Cut off the rind (reserve if you want to make pickles; see tip below) and cut the flesh into cubes. Place melon cubes into a bowl and mix in the salt, mint, lemon juice and queso fresco. Serve in bowls with a splash of extra-virgin olive oil to finish.
Tip: You can make a fantastic pickle with the rind you cut off of the watermelon. Cut the watermelon rinds into 1-inch lengths and place into a glass jar. Combine 2 cups water, 4 ounces sugar, 1 ounce salt, 10 dried allspice berries, 10 whole black peppers, five whole cloves and one cinnamon stick in a small saucepan. Bring contents to a boil on high heat. Turn heat down to medium and simmer for five minutes. Pour the hot liquid over rinds. Let cool. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours before serving.