If there was an election to name their favorite hot-weather fruit, most Israelis would vote for the watermelon. And no wonder; with a water content of 90-92 percent, it's the ideal fruit to bite into on a hot day. But watermelon's goodness is more than skin-deep. So good in fact, that you might want to consider making it a regular part of your diet. An excellent source of antioxidant vitamins C and A and lycopene - which can help boost immunity and ward off disease - watermelon is also a good source of potassium, niacin, vitamin B6 and fiber. Its high water content gives watermelon diuretic properties, often used in cleansing and detoxifying diets. Chinese medical practitioners use melons to treat bladder and kidney ailments, and its rind to treat diabetes and hypertension. Even the seeds are healthy; watermelon seeds are a source of cucurbocitrin, a substance that dilates blood capillaries, helpful in lowering blood pressure. CHOOSING A WATERMELON Despite what most people tell you, the best way to know if the watermelon you've chosen is really a lemon is to taste it, which is why it is perfectly acceptable in most places to ask the fruit vendor for a bite. Other methods include: _ The look - look for a symmetrical melon with no gashes, cuts or bruises, and the stem should be green and somewhat dry, never wet, wrinkled or gnarled. Melons picked before their prime will never develop their full flavor. If the melon is already cut, make sure there are no mealy edges or white streaks, and the black or brown seeds look healthy (if any, most watermelons today are seedless). _ The feel - Pick up the watermelon. It should feel heavy for its size - an indication that the melon is very juicy. _ The knock - Rap the melon with the knuckle of your forefinger or with the whole fist - like knocking on a door. You should hear a deep hollow sound. Storage and handling _ Although whole watermelon may be kept at room temperature for a few days, for best results, store in the refrigerator for up to one week. If using cut watermelon wrap tightly, chill and use within a few days. Watermelon safety _ Although watermelons are one of the lowest in pesticide residues, it's a good idea to wash under clean running water before placing on a cutting surface to slice. Make sure to wash your hands with soap and water and use clean knives and cutting surfaces. WATERMELON IN THE KITCHEN While for most Israelis eating watermelon is just a matter of slice-and-bite, some people like to cut it into cubes to add to fruit salad, blend it into smoothies or margaritas, freeze the flesh for watermelon popsicles or granita, pickle or curry the rind, carve the shell into a decorative basket and even bake the seeds as a snack. Or do as the natives do, and cut it into triangles or chunks and serve with a salty feta-like Bulgarian cheese, sliced or sprinkled on top. WATERMELON, FETA CHEESE & BASIL SALAD There are many variations on this simple salad, some using fresh sage or mint leaves instead of basil, some adding black olives or sliced red onion, some substituting other kinds of cheese like Camembert. This version blends hot and cold, salty and sweet for a new watermelon experience. Serves 6-8
4 Half a medium-sized watermelon
4 250 gr. feta cheese
4 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 fistful of fresh basil or sage leaves
4 freshly ground black pepper to taste
Using a sharp knife, cut the watermelon lengthwise down the center, and then away from the rind, yielding two sets of triangles.
Cover tightly and chill till serving time. Just before serving, place on a large platter with raised sides (so the olive oil will not spill out). Cut the feta cheese into cubes and sprinkle over the watermelon.
Heat the olive oil till hot but not boiling, remove from heat, stir in the basil or sage leaves, and pour over the watermelon and cheese. Season with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately with warm toasted pita, chunks of fresh country-style bread, forks and a glass of chilled wine.
EREZ KOMOROVSKY'S WATERMELON, RED ONION BLACKBERRY SALAD
An exotic combination that's perfect now with blackberries, mulberries and raspberries in season.
4 1 kilo watermelon, rind removed and cut into chunks
4 2 small red onions, peeled and sliced lengthwise
4 150 gr. ripe goat cheese, crumbled
4 1 cup fresh blackberries or raspberries
4 juice of one and a half lemons
4 1 Tbsp. sugar
4 coarsely ground white pepper to taste
4 bunch arugula leaves, stems removed
In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice and sugar and gently add the blackberries. Set aside one hour. Transfer the watermelon, red onion and watercress leaves to a large serving platter, and sprinkle the cheese, white pepper, and finally the berries and lemon juice on top. For lovers of spicy food, Erez suggests adding a finely minced fresh chili pepper to the lemon juice along with the berries.