With summer just around the corner, Israel’s long-awaited watermelon season has begun.
Technically a vegetable, watermelon was first grown in northern Africa 5,000 years ago and is mentioned in the Bible as a staple of the Egyptian diet. Ancient watermelons probably weren’t very sweet. A Byzantine mosaic uncovered in Israel, dated from 425 CE, depicts a cut watermelon with yellow-orange flesh. Over time, they became redder as they were bred to be sweeter, because redness and sweetness are genetically paired.
The redder the melon, the more healthful beta-carotene it contains. Despite containing mostly water, watermelon also is a good source of phenolic antioxidants, flavonoids, lycopene and vitamins A and C.
According to the Plant Production and Marketing Board of the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, the average Israeli consumes 26 pounds (12 kilos) of watermelon each year. The average American eats 16 pounds per year.
Approximately 100 Israeli watermelon growers – mainly in the Arava desert, the Jordan Rift Valley and the Lower and Western Galilee – sell about 100,000 tons of their crops annually. Seedless varieties developed by Israeli researchers are especially popular.
Choosing a quality watermelon is usually a guessing game of sniffing, inspecting, or poking. Last summer, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology students Salah Abd Alhalem, Adam Garah and Ayman Sarha’an decided to be scientific about it.
They developed a prototype sensor-and-smartphone device that photographs a watermelon from three angles, uses an algorithm to analyze its external properties, and predicts a flavor rating between 1 (atrocious) and 5 (divine). The computer-science students determined that a watermelon’s tone, color, stripe patterns, shape, and size of the circle at the bottom all help determine its taste.
Once you buy your watermelon, you can simply slice it and enjoy a cool snack. But you can also use watermelon to add a refreshing kick to cocktails, cold soups, salads, and more.
1) Red Drum Tartare with Watermelon Salsa and Watermelon-Ginger Granita (4 servings)
- 80 grams (3 oz.) watermelon, cut into small cubes
- 50 grams ginger
- 200 grams (1 cup) watermelon, cubed
- Handful chopped mint leaves
- ¼ teaspoon hot pepper, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 100 grams (3.5 oz.) fresh, boneless red drum cut into small cubes
- Zest from ½ lemon
- ½ teaspoon sumac
- Peel of 1 cucumber, cut into small squares
- 1 teaspoon coriander, chopped
- A pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- White spreadable cheese such as ricotta or feta
- toast fingers
For the watermelon granita, puree the 80g watermelon and ginger; filter well into a bowl and freeze until you get ice. Scrape the ice with a spoon or shred in a blender and keep in the freezer.
For the watermelon salsa, mix together 200g watermelon cubes, chopped mint, hot pepper, fresh lemon juice and soy sauce. Refrigerate for about an hour.
Mix the fish with lemon zest, sumac, cucumber peel, coriander, salt and olive oil.
In four martini cups, divide the watermelon salsa. Top with a thin layer of cream cheese and then the fish tartare to the level of about 1½ cups in each. Top with a spoonful of chilled watermelon ice and garnish with the toast fingers.
2) Cold Watermelon Soup (6 servings)
- 1 beetroot, cooked and peeled
- 4.5 pounds (2 kilo) watermelon (about ½ a small watermelon), rind removed
- 2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
- 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar, honey or silan (date honey)
- Salt and white pepper
- Lemon zest and olive oil for garnish
Puree beetroot in a food processor. Add watermelon, avocado, vinegar, sweetener, salt and pepper; puree until smooth. Strain into a bowl to make sure there are no chunks. Chill at least two hours before serving. Serve cold garnished with a sprinkling of olive oil and lemon zest.
3) Watermelon Vinaigrette with Green Beans and Peaches (4 servings)
- 5 pitted peaches
- 200 grams (1 cup) fresh green beans, cooked in water about 10 minutes
- 150 grams (2/3 cup) shelled sliced almonds
- 2 cups cubed watermelon
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- Salt and pepper
Puree watermelon cubes in a food processor until they reach a uniform texture. Add the remaining vinaigrette ingredients and mix well. Slice the peaches into rounds and arrange on a serving platter. Cool the cooked beans briefly in ice water. Drain and add to the platter. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad, sprinkle with almonds and serve.
4) Watermelon and Star Anise Jam
- 1 kg. (2.2 lb.) watermelon
- 500 grams (17.5 oz.) apples
- 1½ lemons
- 6 star anise fruits
- 750 grams (26 oz.) sugar
Clean, wash, and cube the watermelon and the apples. Sprinkle the apple with the juice of 1 lemon. Put the watermelon and apples in a deep, wide pan; add sugar, remaining lemon juice, and star anise. Cook until it thickens.
Pour the jam in hot jars (previously heated to 100°C/212°F for 30 minutes) and close well. Turn the jars upside down for about 5 minutes, and then turn them back so the jam cools gradually.
5) Refreshing Summer Watermelon Soup (10 servings)
- 1 whole red watermelon
- 2 tablespoons mint leaves, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
- A handful of ice cubes
Remove the watermelon from the rind and cut into coarse bits. Place the watermelon, ginger, sugar, lemon juice, mint, and water into a food processor. Puree for about 2 minutes until smooth.
Pour into 10 cups, add ice, and drink l’chaim.
Originally posted at Israel21c.