Think Beyond the Slice with Watermelon

Photo by Adél Békefi / Getty

We already know it’s chock-full of nutrients and perfect for picnicking—but chefs and bartenders across the country are reimagining watermelon, using everyone’s favorite summer fruit as an ingredient instead of a garnish.

“I personally love the bright pink color watermelon adds to dishes, and it’s a great ingredient to incorporate into meals when it’s too hot to cook,” says Denise Roa, executive chef of Rancho La Puerta wellness resort in Tecate, Mexico. “It’s refreshing and juicy, and provides a wonderful flavor to salads and pairs nicely with fresh herbs and fruits.”

Here are easy recipes for taking your watermelon chunks to the next level, from cocktail glass to dinner plate. Plus, pick up easy wine-pairing tips, and find out where to score these dishes during the dog days of summer.

Dry & Spicy

Recipe courtesy Scott Fitzgerald, mixologist at Greenwich Project, New York City

Watermelon’s natural sweetness gets a kick from the addition of Thai chilies in this hydrating cocktail. “Watermelon is light, refreshing and subtle, and still carries a distinctly individual flavor,” says Fitzgerald. “The absolute freshness means that all white spirits are lifted and enhanced by its soft profile.”

  • 6 watermelon chunks, cut into ½-inch squares
  • 1 Thai chili, sliced in half
  • 2 ounces Brugal Extra Dry Rum
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • Watermelon wedge, for garnish

In a cocktail mixer, muddle the watermelon and chili. Add the rum, lime juice and syrup. Shake well and fine strain the drink into a rocks glass. Garnish with watermelon.

Watermelon Agua Fresca

Recipe courtesy Rancho La Puerta, Tecate, Mexico

“Watermelon Agua Fresca is hands down a favorite in Mexico,” says Denise Roa, executive chef of Rancho La Puerta. “It’s easy to make, and our winter rains provide us some of the best melons and stone fruits during summer. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays and add it to other drinks in place of plain ice cubes, or freeze the drink into popsicle molds, which we call paletas.”

  • 1½ pounds seedless watermelon, rind removed, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1½ cups frozen raspberries
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • 3 tablespoons agave syrup (optional)

In a food processor, purée the watermelon, raspberries and apple juice until smooth. Taste and add agave syrup if desired. Serves 4.

Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Salad

Photo by Taylor Kiser / Unsplash

Recipe courtesy True Food Kitchen

“The tomato and watermelon salad showcases what True Food Kitchen is all about—simple, pure flavors that rely on seasonality and freshness,” says Michael Stebner, brand executive chef.

“Watermelon is hydrating and one of the best sources of lycopene, which is the cancer-fighting phytonutrient that makes the melon red. Tomatoes are rich in antioxidant vitamins as well as lycopene,” Stebner says.

  • 1 pound red watermelon, rind removed and cut into 1½-inch chunks
  • 1 pound yellow watermelon, rind removed and cut into 1½-inch chunks
  • 4 heirloom tomatoes, halved
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons small fresh basil leaves
  • 4 ounces mild, soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • ¼ cup chopped roasted unsalted cashews

Divide the watermelon pieces and tomatoes among 4 salad plates. Drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar, and season with salt and pepper. Top with the basil, goat cheese and cashews before serving. Serves 4.

Wine Recommendation: Regan Jasper, Vice President of Beverage at Fox Restaurant Concepts, parent company of True Food Kitchen, recommends a Buenas Ondas Torrontés from Argentina to match with this watermelon dish. “[It’s] the perfect pairing for the bright, fresh and juicy salad,” says Jasper. “On the palate, crisp acid acts as a backbone for the beautiful fruit and floral follow through.”

Charred Watermelon and Manouri

Photo by Ray Kachatorian / Getty

Recipe courtesy Michael Psilakis, Chef/Owner, MP Taverna, Irvington, Roslyn and Astoria, New York City

Ever thought of grilling watermelon? It’s a winning technique for this chef and television personality, star of the BBC show No Kitchen Required. “Charring the watermelon elevates the sweetness of the fruit, making for an intense contrast from the tangy manouri,” says Psilakis.

  • 12 ounces manouri cheese, chilled until very cold
  • 1½ pounds seedless watermelon, cut in two 1-inch, center-cut slices
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 20 leaves fresh mint
  • 20 fresh picked dill sprigs
  • Sea salt

Preheat a charcoal or gas grill until hot. Cut the manouri into two 1-inch-thick circles. Trim the rind from the watermelon and cut into large pie-shaped wedges. Brush the watermelons and the manouri with a little olive oil, and season with kosher salt and pepper. Grill the watermelon wedges and the manouri rounds just until slightly char marked on both sides. Transfer to a platter and cut the manouri into wedges about the same size as the watermelon. Drizzle with a little more olive oil. Scatter with the mint leaves, dill sprigs and a little sea salt. Grind a little pepper over the top. Serves 4–6.

Tips for Pairing Watermelon with Wine

“Maybe it’s not something that you would think about often, but there are wines that work with watermelon,” says Regan Jasper, vice president of Beverage at Fox Restaurant Concepts, “and there are ways to dress up watermelon to make it more friendly with wine.”

For straight watermelon, Jasper advises looking for wine with a tiny bit of residual sugar. “Vouvray or domestic Chenin Blanc, and since watermelon is indigenous to South Africa, a nice Chenin Blanc from South Africa would be ideal,” he says, “as well as Old World Riesling from Alsace and Germany.”

If your watermelon dish has a hint of spice, like from Thai chilies or cayenne pepper, “then we can bring in the real sweet wines like Moscato or Riesling,” says Jasper.

Adding cheese and herbs to the fruit, like goat cheese and basil “bring in secondary flavors that assist in pairing,” says Jasper. “The herbal component of basil helps the aromatics of Torrontès.  Also try adding burrata to your salad; then we can get more viscous and play with Pinot Blanc, or even Chardonnay.”

Temperature is important to consider, too. “At the end of the day, all of these whites when served chilled, or even cold if you live in the desert like I do, are every bit as refreshing as watermelon,” notes Jasper. “Both can live on your palate at the same time.”

Five Spots to Score Watermelon

Photo by Yulia Khlebnikova / Unsplash

1. Holsteins Shakes and Buns, Las Vegas

The watermelon bubblegum slushy is a made-to-order shake incorporating fresh watermelon, bubblegum vodka and liquid nitrogen—resulting in a refreshing, spiked smoothie with a whimsical twist.

2. Hotel Madeline, Telluride, Colorado 

Guests can find the juicy fruit offered in two ways at this upscale mountain resort: In a crispy pork belly and watermelon salad at Restaurant REV, or in a watermelon martini, offered at the SMAK Bar.

3. La Casita, New Orleans 

Fresh watermelon purée lifts the mojitos and margaritas on offer during the summer at this Arts District taquería.

4. Twin Farms, Barnard, Vermont

At this luxurious resort nestled in 300 scenic acres, guests love the rum-based watermelon and wild angelica punch.

5. The Neapolitan at The Cosmopolitan, Las Vegas

Made with Tequila, orange curaçao, watermelon, orange and lime juices, the watermelon patch is an adult popsicle—think of it as a margarita on a stick.

Published on July 8, 2015
Topics: Food RecipesWine and Food PairingsWine Ratings