RECIPES: How to turn those not-so-perfect watermelons into juicy summer dishes and drinks

Melon masterpieces

Pastel Pina Colada (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Pastel Pina Colada (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Everybody knows a perfectly ripe watermelon needs no adornment, except maybe a light sprinkle of salt.

But what about those not so perfect melons? Those that needed just a few more days in the sun or experienced a little too much rainfall on the vine?

Even armed with knowledge of how to pick out a watermelon, some melons — especially after you've had a sweet one — fall flat of our expectations.

The following recipes are some of our favorite ways to use those not-so-perfect melons; prepare them with an impeccably sweet watermelon and they'll be even better.

With more than 90% water content, it's no wonder the juicy, often ruby-red fleshed fruit is a summertime favorite and a cool wedge can be as refreshing as a glass of water on a hot day.

When we think of watermelons, most of us picture bright green striped skin and pink to red flesh. But not all watermelons are green striped nor do they all have reddish flesh.

Some varieties have yellow or orange flesh, while others have white to light pink flesh. Some varieties of watermelon, such as the black diamond and black beauty, have few to no visible stripes. There are even yellow skinned watermelons — we spotted some for sale recently at Holland Bottom Farm in Cabot. Like most fruits, there may be subtle flavor differences between varieties (think gala apple compared to a honeycrisp) but they all taste like watermelon.

Selecting a watermelon can be tricky business. The following suggestions can make the process a little easier.

◼️ Look for firm, symmetrical melons free of bruises, deep cuts or dents.

◼️ Select melons that are heavy for their size.

◼️ The underside of the melon should have a yellow or creamy patch, where the melon rested on the ground.

◼️ The skin of the melon should look dull; avoid melons that are shiny.

◼️ Always clean the exterior of the melon before cutting into it. Even though the thick skin protects the flesh, any grit, bacteria or residue present on the rind can be transferred by a knife when cutting.

If you don't have room in your fridge to store a whole melon, try placing the melon on a floor air conditioning register. The cool air blowing from the vent will help slightly chill the melon.

To remove excess liquid from watermelon that will be used in salads and salsas, reach for the sugar bowl, not the salt shaker.

America's Test Kitchen recommends a ratio of 2 teaspoons sugar to 4 cups cubed watermelon. Toss the sugar with the melon in a colander set over a large bowl and let drain for 30 minutes. Discard (or save for another use) the liquid and use the watermelon as directed in the recipe.

This pretty pink drink is just as good without the rum. For a thicker, slushier drink, replace the pineapple juice with about ¼ cup frozen pineapple.

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Pastel Pina Colada

  • 2 ounces white (silver) rum
  • 3 ounces pineapple juice
  • 1 ounce cream of coconut
  • 1 cup cubed fresh watermelon, plus wedges for garnish
  • 1 cup ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Pour into tall glasses and garnish with a wedge of watermelon.

Makes 2 drinks.

Recipe from Koloa Rum

Watermelon Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Watermelon Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

Sweet, salty, spicy and just a little bit tart — this salad hits all our favorite summer flavor notes.

Watermelon Salad

  • 6 cups watermelon cubes or balls
  • 1 cup sliced cucumber
  • Very thinly sliced red onion, to taste
  • Very thinly sliced or minced jalapeno or Fresno chile, to taste
  • Several fresh basil leaves, julienned if leaves are large
  • 1 to 2 ounces feta cheese
  • Juice and zest from ½ to 1 lemon OR lime
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, to taste
  • Coarse salt, to taste

Combine the watermelon, cucumbers, red onion, chile and basil in a large shallow bowl or on a platter. Crumble the feta and scatter it over the watermelon mixture.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon (or lime) zest and juice and olive oil. Drizzle over salad. Sprinkle very lightly with coarse salt.

Serve immediately.

Makes about 4 servings.

Watermelon, Chicken and Pecan Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Watermelon, Chicken and Pecan Salad (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

When made with rotisserie chicken, this salad makes a delicious, filling no-cook summer supper.

Watermelon, Chicken and Pecan Salad

  • 2 ½ to 3 cups cubed or balled watermelon
  • 1 (5- to 6-ounce) package baby spinach or other salad greens
  • Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped or shredded cooked chicken
  • ½ cup crumbled cheese such as feta or gorgonzola
  • ¾ cup toasted pecan halves

In a large bowl, combine watermelon and salad greens. Add dressing and gently toss to coat. Add chicken, cheese and pecans and gently toss again.

Makes 4 servings.

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Pepper Jelly Vinaigrette

  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup jalapeno pepper jelly
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, jelly, lime juice, onion, salt and pepper. Whisking constantly, gradually add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until blended.

Makes about ¾ cup.

Recipe adapted from "Southern Living What's for Supper"

Fried Halloumi With Watermelon, Pistachios and Herbs (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Fried Halloumi With Watermelon, Pistachios and Herbs (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

The combinations of flavors and textures in this dish made our taste buds sing. Just be sure to serve it immediately while the cheese is still warm.

Fried Halloumi With Watermelon, Pistachios and Herbs

  • For the vinaigrette:
  • 2 ¼ cups diced watermelon, divided use
  • 2 tablespoon minced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced Serrano or jalapeno
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice OR white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • For the fried halloumi:
  • 1 (7- to 9-ounce) block halloumi (queso fresco will work too)
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons chopped pistachios
  • Fresh herbs such as basil, mint, parsley and/or cilantro for garnish

Place 1 ¼ cups of the diced watermelon in a colander or fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and let drain, stirring occasionally and gently mashing on the cubes with the back of a spoon, for about 20 minutes. Strain the liquid into a mixing bowl. You should have about ½ cup. Add the red onion, chile, lime juice, sugar and salt to the watermelon juice and stir. Taste and adjust salt, sugar and/or lime if needed. Whisk in the olive oil and season with black pepper.

Chill 30 minutes before serving. Re-whisk just before using.

Drain and cut the halloumi into 8 slabs and pat dry with a paper towel.

Heat a thin film of oil in a large well-seasoned cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Working with a few slices at a time, sear the cheese on one side until it's golden brown (it won't melt, just brown), 3 to 5 minutes. Flip and repeat on the other side. Remove to individual serving plates or a platter.

Drizzle the cheese with the vinaigrette and sprinkle with the pistachios, remaining diced watermelon and herbs.

Serve immediately.

Makes about 4 servings.

Vinaigrette recipe adapted from "Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings: 60 Sensational Recipes to Liven Up Greens, Grains, Slaws and Every Kind of Salad" by Michele Anna Jordan (Harvard Common Press)

Watermelon Gazpacho (Democrat-Gazette file photo)
Watermelon Gazpacho (Democrat-Gazette file photo)

For those days when it's just too hot to cook, gazpacho is a dinner saver. Serve it as a side with cold sandwiches or top it with frozen cooked shrimp from the freezer and crusty bread to make a meal.

Tomato-Watermelon Gazpacho

  • 4 cups cubed watermelon
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup chopped, peeled, seedless cucumber
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored and roughly chopped (optional)
  • ¼ to ½ red onion, chopped
  • ½ to 1 jalapeno or Fresno chile, seeded, if desired
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
  • Diced avocado, cooked shrimp or other seafood, croutons, and/or crumbled feta for garnish

In a blender or food processor, combine watermelon, tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and chile; process until smooth. Stir in salt and vinegar. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Drizzle each serving with olive oil and top with desired garnishes.

Makes about 4 servings.

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