Watermelon salad: Peculiar, outrageous and insanely odd
-CAROL OF MOON-
By Carol Dzadony-Mancini
What's more synonymous with summertime than watermelon?
As a kid, it was a favorite with the neighborhood parents. Much like freeze pops, you could feed all of the neighborhood kids inexpensively with one watermelon, or one plastic net full of freeze pops.
Side note: I'm not sure parents feed the entire neighborhood anymore. I grew up in a fun, fun time.
As a young "legal" adult, I learned that watermelon takes alcohol very easily. The result was a delicious addition to any Friday afternoon party. Eat enough of the infused watermelon and you may not have made it to happy hour.
It's since gotten classier with things like watermelon martinis, frozen watermelon margaritas, tequila mockingbirds, watermelon mojitos and a new one to me, La Estrella. This recipe comes from famed New York City bartender Phil Ward, who muddles watermelon chunks with cubed sugar and club soda before adding aged rum, lime juice and cayenne pepper and topping with more club soda. A pineapple-and-strawberry garnish provides a finishing flourish to the sweet-and-spicy drink. That sounds tasty!
The culinary world has been using watermelon since the ancient Egyptians more than 5,000 years ago. A cookbook published in the United States in 1796 contained a recipe for pickled watermelon rinds.
This warm-weather favorite is rich in beta carotene and potassium. It is chock full of antioxidants.
If you eat it there will never be a shortage of water in your body.
It is 92% water and only 8% sugar.
Wait a minute...only 8% sugar?
How much watermelon is Harry Styles eating to get his famed "watermelon sugar high"? And who's the lucky person?
But get your mind out of the gutter! (wink wink)
Speculation and innuendo of the sexual kind are alive and well and living in pop culture.
As it was speculated that the 2019 Harry Styles hit “Watermelon Sugar” clearly had not safe for work implications especially when Styles neither denied or confirmed the "allegations."
Initially, Styles explained the song was inspired by a Richard Brautigan book. He said “A Richard Brautigan book, 'In Watermelon Sugar,’ was on the table and I was like, 'That’ll sound cool,'" attributing the meaning solely to this particular novel.
However, Styles clarified his statement during a later live performance, revealing the meaning behind "Watermelon Sugar" is more risque than he initially claimed. It is indeed sexual innuendo.
That revelation about the 1968 Brautigan novel got me curious. I ordered it and gave it a whirl. It's an extremely quick read that left me mesmerized.
Brautigan's novel is a postmodern post-apocalyptic tale set in the aftermath of a fallen civilization. “Watermelon Sugar” is a place where commune-organized living happens around a centralized gathering house, iDEATH.
You think the Steves of Apple read the Brautigan novel? I'm guessing maybe those laggards of the 70s were fans of the 50s beatniks, like Brautigan.
In the story, many things are made of watermelon sugar, though the inhabitants also use pine wood and stone for building material and fuel made from trout oil. The landscape of the novel is constantly in flux; each day has a different colored sun which creates differently colored watermelons, and the central building also changes frequently. It's where people travel to the length of their dreams. It's where you can have a name of whatever you want.
Rejecting the violence and hate, they lead gentle lives in “Watermelon Sugar.” In this book, Richard Brautigan discovers and expresses the mood of the counterculture generation.
Genius or insanity?
I've read the book and yet can't decide.
However, Styles' song isn't far off from Brautigan's real life. According to a Rolling Stone article by Lawrence Wright, Brautigan had a dead ear for music. His daughter, Ianthe remembered that he used to buy record albums because of the girls on the covers.
I think he would have approved of Styles' song lyrics and the reference his words imply.
“In Watermelon Sugar” is the only work by Brautigan that I've read. But I am sure to use him for some easy beach reading this summer.
Brautigan's writing is a trip to another world. It's peculiar, outrageous and insanely odd but somehow it all goes together. It strangely makes a cohesive piece out of ingredients that don't seemingly go well together.
Much like the watermelon salad recipe below.
You would never think to add feta cheese, red onions and serrano peppers to watermelon. Yet, it all goes together when the lime vinaigrette made with olive oil and Tajin meld all of the ingredients into one peculiar, outrageous and insanely odd summer favorite.
The heat from the serrano peppers offsets the watermelon’s sweetness. Did you know eating spicy foods in hot weather allows your body to sweat, which lowers your body temperature?
Whether you will enjoy watermelon (sugar) as a food, a drink or a high this summer, know that its health benefits go far past cooling you off!
Picking a good watermelon is hard to do. Purchasing pre-cut watermelon is much more expensive than buying it whole, but unless you know what to look for on the outside of the melon, it's a crap shoot for a good or bad melon.
Look for a big yellow spot on one side of the watermelon. This is called the "field spot" and a yellow spot indicates that the melon spent enough time ripening on the vine before being picked. If the spot is more on the white side, it means it was picked before fully ripe.
The watermelon should feel heavier than it looks. When you pick it up, it should feel like it weighs more than its size makes it look like. This means it’s nice and juicy!
Tap the watermelon. I find this tip always to be subjective. A ripe, juicy watermelon should make a deep sound when you thump it. I think this can be confusing, so I typically use the other two tips!
When it comes to feta, I prefer to buy the block in brine as opposed to the feta crumble. I feel the brined block has a better fresher flavor and you know that you're getting fresh cheese.
The juxtaposition of the sweet melon with the tart lime, the heat from the serrano peppers and the richness of the vinaigrette gives this salad an unconventional yet delicious, unique flavor. But don't let this recipe hold you back.
Experiment with other of your favorite sweet and hot flavors. Why not try cojita cheese instead of feta?
Or habanero peppers instead of serrano? Balsamic glaze instead of Tajin? Yellow watermelon instead of red?
3 avocados (halved, pit removed and sliced into ½-inch thick slices)
1/2 large seedless watermelon (sliced into ½-inch thick wedges)
1 large English cucumber, (peeled and cut into ½-inch half moons)
1 red onion (sliced into ¼-inch thick slices)
4 Tablespoons each basil and mint, torn
8 ounces fresh brined feta cheese (crumbled by hand)
3-4 serrano peppers (seeded, deveined and finely minced)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons honey
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Tajin seasoning (optional) as garnish
What to do:
In a small bowl, make dressing and pour over sliced red onions and peppers. Marinate.
Assemble salad, gently combining watermelon, cucumber, and avocados. Add red onions and
dressing to salad.
Toss in mint and crumbled feta. Gently fold to incorporate.
Serve individual plates, adding Tajin seasoning as desired.
Carol Dzadony-Mancini is a former resident of Stowe Township and currently resides in Moon Township with her family. Her hobbies include riding horses, skiing, crocheting, hiking with her dogs, and of course cooking for the people she loves.