Sweet, in any language

Parisians and Yanks can agree on the virtues of watermelon.

Posted: July 08, 2010

Growing up in Texas, I remember tasting watermelon that was so sweet that we'd sprinkle salt on the oversize, half-moon slices to balance the flavors.

Eating the cartoony wedges was always an adventure - the watermelon itself was no match for the flimsy white paper plates - and the seeds . . . what were we supposed to do if not spit them at each other?

Let's face it, watermelon's just fun. Its striped outside and bright pink, black polka-dotted middle give it a visual appeal like no other fruit, and the taste - such sweet goodness! A slice on a hot day is what summer's all about.

Besides that, watermelon is mostly water (92 percent), and it's good for you, full of Vitamins A, C, and B6, and potassium. Originally from Africa, it was cultivated by the Egyptians, but it wasn't until the 1600s that watermelon was introduced to the rest of the world. Now, there are more than 1,200 varieties.

In Paris, I didn't even notice the dark green fruit slightly larger than a bowling ball called pasteque the first summer or two I was here. Without the familiar dark and light green stripes, I just walked past this Frenchified watermelon, thinking it was some kind of squash (which is a cousin, like the pumpkin and cantaloupe).

Then, last summer at a picnic with a few expat friends along the Seine on an unusually hot night in August, someone brought out the watermelon. Without even a tiny breeze, there seemed to be nothing we could do to cool off - until, without paper plates, even, we ate chunks of drippy, messy, good old pasteque as the sun finally set.

The Parisians nearby looked at us, as they often do, with surprise. Non, we're not going to use a knife and fork to eat our watermelon - or our hamburgers. That said, here are two savory recipes for watermelon that'll please folks on both sides of the Atlantic. You can use silverware, if you're so inclined, or just eat with your fingers.

Watermelon-Feta Salad

Makes 4 servings

2 pounds watermelon, cut in 1-inch cubes

Handful of mint, roughly chopped

10 kalamata olives, pitted and halved

Small red onion (about 2 tablespoons), diced

Juice of 1/2 lime

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

7 ounces feta

Additional mint, for serving


Put everything except the feta in a large bowl and toss gently so the watermelon pieces stay whole. Refrigerate for an hour. Before serving, add the feta, a bit more mint, and cracked pepper.

Per serving: 194 calories, 13 grams fat, 13 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams protein, 44 milligrams cholesterol, 941 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 58 percent of calories from fat.

Watermelon Pico de Gallo

Makes 6 garnish servings

2 medium tomatoes, diced

16 ounces watermelon, diced (watermelon pieces should be larger than the tomato)

1 tablespoon red onion, diced

1 jalapeƱo, chopped

1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped

Juice of 1/2 lime

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Put everything in a medium bowl, gently toss, and refrigerate for an hour. Adjust seasoning.

Per serving: 25 calories, trace fat, 5 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 162 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 11 percent of calories from fat.

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