Food West Edition

WATERMELON: Summer’s hottest fruit packs flavor and fuel

LOS ANGELES – Few things scream Fourth of July like cold, juicy wedges of watermelon.  Consistently one of the most affordable fruits, watermelons are at their peak of flavor in these hot summer months.

Avoid jarred seasonings, though, (even low-sodium ones), that promise added zing to fruit. Instead, pump up watermelon’s already fantastic flavor with a sodium-free sprinkling of smoked paprika, cayenne or salt-free chili powder.

Pick the perfect watermelon with these four easy steps:

1.         Look for firm, symmetrical melons with no cuts or dents.

2.         Pick it up. About 92 percent water, watermelons should feel heavy.

3.         Check bottom for a yellow or pale yellow shade. This is where it sat on the ground and ripened.

4.         Whack with your open hand and listen for a thump.

For the record, watermelons aren’t just sugar and water. These ruby-colored gems – chockfull of Vitamins A and C and spiced with B6 and lycopene – pack a nutritious punch.  And at 46 calories per cup with a touch of potassium, watermelons are a deliciously healthy choice. If you’re diabetic, talk to your doctor about fitting watermelon into your diet.

From pre-cut chunks to the cute minis, this versatile fruit is bursting with choices in the market and the kitchen.  Try these ideas for thinking beyond the everyday wedge:

  • Choose watermelon instead of croutons. Cold watermelon cubes make great toppers for everyday green salads or main-dish salads of spinach or lettuces topped with seafood or chicken.
  • Combine watermelon chunks, sliced strawberries, blueberries and hand-torn mint leaves. Stir in finely grated orange zest and sprinkle with nutmeg. Chill.
  • Create a signature salsa by stirring lots of finely diced watermelon and a squirt of lime juice into your favorite low-sodium refrigerated salsa (under 140 mg sodium per 2 tablespoons) for a great dip. Or, spoon over tacos, grilled seafood or pork tenderloin.
  • Lightly mist thick wedges with cooking spray.  Grill in hot pan about 2 minutes per side. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar or a little honey.

Watermelon Water

Makes about 6 (1 cup) servings

Once you’ve sipped this agua fresca, you’re likely to kick the soda can.

½ cup water

1 tablespoon agave

8 mint leaves

Zest of 1 lime

4 cups watermelon chunks

2 cups cold water, divided

2 tablespoons lime juice

Lime slices and mint springs

Stir water, agave mint leaves and lime zest in a small pot. Bring to a simmer.  Remove from heat. Pour into cup, cover and chill 1 hour or overnight. Discard leaves and zest.

Blend watermelon, chilled mint water, 1 cup cold water and lime juice on high speed in blender until very smooth.  Pour into pitcher and stir in remaining water.  Float lime and mint on top. Chill 4 hours. Stir. Serve over a little ice, garnished with mint.

Per serving: 40 cal., 0g  fat.,  0g chol., 0g sodium,  12g carb., 1g fiber., 11 g sugars (over 8g from melon) , 6%  daily Vit.  A, 10%  daily Vit. C

Good to know: Seedless oval watermelons and their seedless mini-melon cousins are GMO-free hybrids, the result of years of cross breeding.

Good to own: Super sharp, a microplane zester (about $15). Lets you zest citrus in a flash.

Carla F. Williams is a South L.A. resident, cookbook author and certified nutrition and wellness consultant. Her lifelong love of all things food and cooking launched her on her mission to guide Los Angeles residents into the kitchen to prepare tasty, practical, affordable dishes that reward their taste buds and their health.

Cooking questions?  Email Carla at: kitchenwithcarla@hotmail.com