Food Ontario Select Guide: Melons the Tasty Fruit
In this edition of the Food Ontario Select Guide we feature Melons. Melons originated in the Middle East thousands of years ago but have become firmly entrenched in our North American cuisine. Versatile and easy to use, melons are more than just plain old throwaway fruit garnishes. They have found their place in every food course from cocktails, appetizers and kabob skewers to soups, salsas, salads, main entrees and desserts.
Your local produce shops carry a wide variety of melons besides the usual triad of watermelon/ honeydew/ cantaloupe. Casaba, Crenshaw, Persian and types of Muskmelon are some of the other popular varieties. But don’t stop there – there are more new varieties from Asia popping up at local markets everywhere just begging to be tasted.
Melons are not only sweet and cooling on hot summer days, they are also non-fattening and nutritious. All melons are packed with antioxidants and are a good source of vitamin C and potassium. They are low in calories and cholesterol-free which means they are good for you.
When picking melons choose ones that are firm not bruised or damaged. Those with bruises and bumps on the outer rind should be avoided as the inside flesh could have become contaminated. Some melons have blemishes on the outer rind but this is usually because that was the side the melon was resting on during its growing stage. Overripe melons may smell ‘funky’ so avoid them. Pre-cut melons should always be refrigerated at 40 degrees F. Melons are best eaten fresh but can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
One melon that is synonymous with childhood picnics is the Watermelon. As a starter for outdoor entertaining consider a salad of cubed, seedless watermelon, thinly sliced red onion, crumbled feta cheese, basil ribbons tossed with a pinch of sea salt, cracked black pepper and a drizzle of light extra virgin olive oil. Throw in thinly sliced jalapenos if you can handle a higher spice-meter. Watermelon juice makes a great martini when mixed with vodka. Watermelon slushies are great for kids when added to orange juice and ginger ale.
Other melon recipe suggestions are taking the traditional prosciutto-wrapped melon appetizer a step further by lightly grilling it on the barbecue. Grilling caramelizes the melon and enhances the sweet taste. Thread honeydew and cantaloupe cubes onto your chicken or scallop kabob skewers. Grill to taste (ensuring meat is cooked to correct temperature). Drizzle over a lime-honey-chili sauce for a taste guaranteed to impress your company. Melons are also great with yogurt and muesli for breakfast.
Instead of the standard tomato gazpacho, dice watermelon and add to diced cucumber, red onion and chopped mint. Toss with salt and pepper to taste, add a small measure of light-tasting grape seed oil. Garnish with a dot of plain yogurt. Or, consider a melon salsa as the perfect accompaniment to garlic prawns, scallops or lightly grilled chicken. If you like big salads for lunch toss in a variety of melon cubes over mixed greens, add a sprinkling of walnuts, toasted pumpkin seeds, crumbled cheese and your favorite dressing. The addition of melons will perk up any of your recipes.
And why stop there – use melons in your dessert. From sorbets and palate cleansers to wonderful main dish accompaniments, melons are easy to use in so many creative ways. Got burgers on the grill? Drop the no name-brand rainbow flavored ice-cream tub and grill melon slices topping them with a drizzle of honey, plain vanilla ice-cream and chopped walnuts. Want to get fancy? Decorate your light summer sponge cake with melon slices and a dollop of melon-flavored whipping cream.
You can safely incorporate melons into your daily diet. Freeze melon balls and use them in place of plain old ice-cubes – your kids will love you for it! Adults with bold tastes will love melon slices seasoned with lime juice and a pinch of cayenne or cracked black pepper – for that extra zing.
Melons pair well with: herbs and spices (mint, tarragon, basil, star anise, pepper, ginger, vanilla, garam masala); sour cream, yogurt and cheeses (the crumbly kind); cured or barbecued meats and seafood not to mention the accompanying sweet wines - (red and white). They also complement other fruit like mango, pineapple, guava, strawberries, blackberries and pears. Add them to your cheese platters in place of the usual bunch of grapes and serve with a deliciously sweet after-dinner port.
Whichever way you like to eat them melons are good for you and with year-round availability they can be easily added to your daily meals for a bit of variety from the usual humdrum starchy sides.
By: Sheila LoGuisto
Images: Supplied by Foodie Photography
Articles on Food Ontario (Toronto):