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National Watermelon Day

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I so didn’t know that yesterday was National Watermelon Day, but if I had, boy would I have celebrated. Next to August’s long-awaited harvest of beefy and luscious scarlet, canary and green-striped tomatoes, nothing says summer like a plump, juicy slice of watermelon.

Last summer, I tasted a wonderful watermelon gazpacho at Cuba in Chestnut Hill. And just this past weekend, I sampled a hearty arugula salad that also had feta cheese, fried onions, toasted pine nuts and large, deep-pink chunks of watermelon. It was a refreshing combination that left me smacking my lips and inspired me to do a little experimentation.

One of the easiest combinations I came up with—at least on paper—is diced watermelon with slivers of red onion, watercress (for a peppery bite), and either feta or goat cheese for a salty-sweet contrast. You could also substitute basil leaves for the watercress, which might pack a bigger punch to your taste buds.

I decided to file my off-the-cuff creativity for the moment, though, and search out other—maybe more tried-and-true—watermelon-centric recipes. And of course, that meant combing the food links on nytimes.com, my favorite source of culinary inspiration.

I scrapped the first one that I found—Pork and Watermelon Salad—not because it didn’t look fabulous, but because prep time was four-plus hours. However, because I do want to make it someday and in case you’ve got extra time on your hands this summer, here‘s the recipe.

The recipe shown below is wholly doable and can be whipped up in 20 minutes or less. Plus, the ingredients aren’t too eclectic or expensive. To me, this would be a tasty companion to savory, Greek-seasoned grilled chicken, butterflied leg of lamb, or a citrus-marinated halibut or swordfish filet.

Celery, Watermelon and Cucumber Salad
Serves four as a side dish

• 1 cup celery, peeled into 1-inch pieces
• 2 cups watermelon, cubed and seeded into 1-inch pieces
• 1 cup cucumber, cubed, peeled and seeded into 1-inch pieces
• Interior leaves from celery heart, roughly chopped
• 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
• Freshly squeezed lemon juice, optional
• 3 oz. crumbled sheep’s milk feta or other feta

Preparation:

1. In a medium bowl, combine the celery, watermelon, cucumber, celery leaves and salt. If desired, season with a squeeze of lemon juice to taste. Toss to mix, cover, and refrigerate for two to three hours.
2. Place equal portions on each of four plates. Top with feta, and serve.

Originally published:
The Way We Eat; Green Giant by Sara Dickerman (Sept. 3, 2006)

I also found this recipe for Watermelon and Cucumber Gazpacho on epicurious.com, my other go-to recipe source. It’s from the August 2005 issue of Bon Appétit and was created by Cat Cora. I have no idea who she is, but her name is very cool, though maybe not as much as this really yummy-sounding soup. I can envision this served in an oversized margarita or martini glass, alongside a mound of shrimp or lump crab salad and a pile of tortilla chips and guacamole.
 
Watermelon and Cucumber Gazpacho
Makes four servings

• 1 3-pound seedless watermelon, diced and divided (about 5 cups)
• 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
• 1 medium-size red bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
• 1 medium-size yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced (about 1 cup)
• 1 small jalapeño chile, seeded and minced
• 3 pale-green inner celery stalks, diced (about 1/2 cup)
• 1/2 small red onion, diced (about 1 cup)
• 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
• 3 tbsps. fresh lime juice
• 2 tbsps. red wine vinegar
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream

Preparation:

1. Puree 4 cups watermelon in a blender until smooth. Transfer puree to large bowl. Add remaining 1 cup diced watermelon and next 10 ingredients; stir to combine. Cover gazpacho, and refrigerate until cold, at least one hour and up to four hours.
2. Divide gazpacho among bowls, and top with a dollop of crème fraîche.
 

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