So why not cool off during these dog days of summer by cutting open and sharing a big, juicy, refreshing watermelon? Sure, sometimes it is a pain to slice, cube it and put it in a bowl for all to enjoy, or if you just slice it into wedges, leaving the rind on, it is a bit messy and juice may run down your arm all the way to your elbow and beyond. But seriously, in my opinion, once you take that first juicy bite, those small inconveniences are so worth it!
Although Aug. 3 was National Watermelon Day – I still wanted to share some fun facts and unique watermelon recipes. Did you know a watermelon is actually a giant berry! Yep, and it has been around a long, long time. Watermelon seeds were even found in King Tut’s tomb, and of course, the ancient Greek physicians, including Hippocrates and Dioscorides, praised its healing properties and used it as a diuretic and to treat children with heatstroke by placing a cool slice of the rind on their foreheads. According to watermelon.org/watermelon-101/facts-faqs, a watermelon was thrown at Athenian orator and statesman Demosthenes during a speech. He immediately placed the watermelon on his head and thanked the thrower for throwing a helmet to wear as he fought Philip II of Macedonia. As for my Greek family and me, one of our long-time and simple, favorite ways to eat watermelon is just sliced or cubed and topped with feta cheese and a drizzle of honey. I do have a few unique recipes for this juicy fruit, so put on a bib or wrap a napkin around your neck and “Please Join Our Table.”
My Savannah Summer Salad
(Makes 2 servings)
There is a tour in Savannah, Ga. called “The Secret Dining Spots of Locals.” I was privileged to take a private, laid-back stroll through the residential area of Savannah’s Landmark District’s hidden gems of dining, and enjoyed several fabulous dishes in this magical city. One dish I was served was so unique, within the week I recreated it at home. The creative twist was a salad with no salt, no pepper and no dressing, just a small drizzle of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil). No, the restaurant didn’t give me the recipe; I created it from memory … Enjoy!
6 ounces arugula lettuce, washed and drained well
4 slices of real whole-milk Greek feta cheese, about 4 ounces
1 cup watermelon, cubed (discard the rind or save it for pickling)
1 tablespoon capers
2-3 teaspoon mint leaves, chiffonade sliced*
1-2 tablespoons EVOO ((extra virgin olive oil)
Optional: Local or Greek thyme honey
Divide the arugula lettuce evenly onto two large chilled salad plates. Add the watermelon cubes and capers. Top the salad with the feta, mint and EVOO. For additional sweetness you could also drizzle a bit of honey on top. The peppery arugula and the salty feta eliminate the need to add any salt or pepper to this salad.
*To chiffonade is to cut herbs into long, thin strips by stacking the leaves, rolling them tightly, then slicing the leaves at a right angle to the roll.
Weird Watermelon Pie (Karpouzopita)
Yes, I know, sounds strange right? Well give it a try … It is really quite good! A small story: when I was visiting Greece, I loved to order watermelon — yes, it is one of my favorite fruits and it sounds so cool in Greek. What we call watermelon in English is called “karpouzi” in Greek! This recipe is inspired from a Greek recipe given to me in 2010 by a friend in Greece, and BTW, her name was Karen too! I had to convert her measurements from grams to cups, so it is a bit different than her original recipe.
3 1/3 cups diced seedless watermelon
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup olive oil and extra for coating the bottom of the pan and to drizzle on top of the pie
1/3 cup honey plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2-3 tablespoons semolina flour
With your hands, break up the watermelon into small chunks, about an inch in diameter. Place in a strainer to drain the liquids. Do NOT press or mash the watermelon. Let it strain for at least one hour (set aside the strained juice to use in watermelon lemonade or a strawberry watermelon spritzer). After you strain your watermelon, you can start making the pie. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, add your watermelon and flour and mix well. As the watermelon mushes up it will help create liquid dough. Add the olive oil, honey, cinnamon, sugar, poppy seeds and 1 tablespoon of the sesame seeds and keep mixing until the ingredients have blended. Drizzle the bottom of a round cake pan with olive oil and sprinkle with some semolina flour and 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds to cover the bottom of the pan. Pour in your dough. The height of the pie shouldn’t be higher than an inch. Sprinkle the top with semolina flour and remaining tablespoon of sesame seeds. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Serve hot or warm with drizzled honey. You can also chill it in the fridge and serve cold, but it will have a slightly different flavor.
(Makes about 10 drinks)
This is a great summer drink. Sometimes I make it a grownup cocktail by adding a little vodka and orange-flavored liquor like Cointreau.
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup water
4 cups cubed seedless watermelon
3 cups cold water
2/3 cups fresh lemon juice
6 cups ice cubes
Topo Chico (optional)
Mint leaves and small, thin slice of watermelon for garnish
Place the watermelon in a blender. Cover and pulse until smooth. Strain through a sieve or cheesecloth. Bring sugar and water to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Place ice in 10 glasses and scoop 2 to 3 tablespoons of watermelon puree over the ice, then top with the lemonade. Gently stir before serving. To make it a spritzer, top with Topo Chico. To make it a grownup drink, add vodka and Cointreau to the sugar water. Top with the mint leaves and a slice of watermelon.