“The hot Texas sun brings on a thirst that can only be quenched by delving into a delicious Texas watermelon,” write the authors of “Lone Star to Five Star: Culinary Creations for Every Occasion” (Favorite Recipes Press, 2004), who are also members of the Junior League of Plano.
They go on to tell you how to pick out the best melon there is, whether you’re at the market or a roadside stand: “At the peak of ripeness a watermelon should be firm, symmetrical and heavy. Another sign of perfection is a creamy yellow spot on the underside of the melon indicating that it was sun-ripened. Watermelons are produced in almost every county in Texas and are harvested and sold throughout the world 11 months of the year.”
Since most of us Texans can’t spend a summer without a few melons, it would seem that cookbooks covering the state’s culinary gifts would be filled with ideas of what to do with this juicy fruit. But that’s not the case. I looked through more than 50 cookbooks, but only a handful of ideas showed up. Here are five simple treats, ranging from aguas frescas and salsa to salad and sorbet, that celebrate Texas at its boldest and most refreshing.
Minty Melon Pops
“Whenever you have melon, you rarely have just a little. You have lots of it,” writes Denise Gee in “Sweet on Texas” (Chronicle Books, $24.95, 2012). “This is a great way to use that leftover melon. Think of it as agua fresca on a stick. (And you know how we love our sticks o’ anything.)”
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup losely packed fresh mint
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup pureed watermelon (black seeds removed)
1 cup pureed honeydew melon
1 cup pureed cantaloupe
To make the syrup: Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and heat to a boil, stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves. Add the mint and set aside; let cool to room temperature. Pour the mint syrup through a strainer into a clean container, add the lime juice and stir to combine. Refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
To make the popsicles: Using three medium bowls, keep the pureed melons separate.
Pour equal amounts of mint-lime syrup into each melon bowl and stir well.
Fill popsicle molds three-fourths full (leaving room for expansion) with individual melon mixes or a combination of them (see note). Set the lids in place and insert sticks through the holes. If you don’t have popsicle molds, fill small freezer-proof cups about three-fours full'; stretch plastic wrap across the top and affix with rubber bands. Make 1/2-inch slits in the center and insert sticks.
Freeze the popsicles until firmly set (3 to 4 hours).
Remove the popsicles by squeezing the sides of the molds or cups and twist slightly to disengage. If necessary, briefly rinse the outside of the molds or cups under hot water.
Note: For a layered, rainbow effect, freeze each mold, fitted with a stick, about third full and keep frozen for about 1 hour or more before adding the second layer of a different juice. Let it freeze for about 1 hour more before adding a third layer of a different juice, then freeze until completely firm.
Makes 16 servings.
From “Sweet on Texas” by Denise Gee
This simple sorbet recipe, from Peg Hein’s “More Tastes and Tales from Texas … with Love” (1987), doesn’t require an ice cream maker or any special equipment.
4 cups watermelon chunks
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup sugar
2 egg whites
Additional sugar, if needed
Place watermelon chunks in a food processor or blender bowl. Puree until smooth. Remove seeds with a slotted spoon. You should have about 3 cups watermelon puree.
Add orange juice and sugar. Mix thoroughly and pour into a large flat bowl. Freeze until solid around edges but still slushy in the center. Stir until smooth. Beat egg whites until stiff, adding a little more sugar if needed. Fold into sorbet. Freeze for 1 to 1 1/2 hours without stirring. Serve in individual sherbet dishes or in small dessert bowls.
Makes 6-8 servings.
From “More Tastes and Tales from Texas … with Love” by Peg Hein
Refreshing Watermelon Delight (Refresco de Sandia)
“This fruit-flavored water, or aguas frescas, is especially delicious, and it looks beautiful served in a clear glass pitcher,” writes Diana Barrios Treviño in “Los Barrios Family Cookbook” (Villard, $18.95, 2002).
2 pounds watermelon (see note)
3 1/2 quarters Water
2 cups sugar
Remove the seeds from the watermelon, slice the flesh from the rind, and cut it into chunks. Transfer to a blender, in batches, if necessary, and blend for a few seconds; there should still be some small chunks of watermelon.
Combine the water and sugar in a large pitcher, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the watermelon puree, blending thoroughly. Refrigerate until chilled before serving.
Note: You can substitute cantaloupe for watermelon.
Makes 1 gallon.
2 cups coarsely chopped watermelon
1 cup roasted corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1 large jalapeño, seeded and chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Combine the watermelon, corn, onions, jalapeño and lime juice in a bowl and mix gently. Chill until serving time.
Serve with tortilla chips, over salads or with grilled chicken or fish.
Makes 6 servings.
From “Lone Star to Five Star: Culinary Creations for Every Occasion” by the Junior League of Plano
Watermelon and Basil Salad with Goat Feta Cheese
“This is a unique summertime salad, especially when the Hempstead watermelons are at the ripe and flavorful best,” writes Terry Thompson-Anderson in “Texas on the Table” (University of Texas Press, $45, 2014). “It’s such a simple, easy-to-make salad, but the combination of flavors and textures is the real essence of a Texas summer.”
6 cups (1-inch) cubes of seedless Texas watermelon, grown in Hempstead, if possible
10 ounces crumbed Texas goat feta cheese
1/2 small red onion, sliced paper thin
1 cup fresh basil, cut in julienned strips
Texas extra-virgin olive oil
Combine the watermelon chunks, goat feta and red onion in a bowl and toss to blend. Just before serving, cut the basil leaves and add to the salad. Add just enough olive oil to moisten the ingredients and salt to taste. Toss to blend in the basil and salt. Serve at once before the basil strips turn dark.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
From “Texas on the Table” by Terry Thompson-Anderson