Celebrate with watermelon!

This past weekend, there have been some winners and losers with the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.  As an Australian, I didn’t grow up knowing and loving football because down there, they call it soccer and play what they call football with a different ball and a whole different set of rules!  I really started to love football when I was living in France and “Les Bleus” were on a roll in the late 1990s. I was fortunate enough to be living in Paris in 1998 when France hosted and won the World Cup and it was quite the historic moment. Much cause for celebration.  I was also in Paris in the summer of 2006 doing courses for my MA, when there was not so much cause for celebration.  As they say, you win some, you lose some.

I recently had cause for celebration of my own when I managed to score part-sponsorship to the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle this coming August.  Over the past few months, I have had the great fortune to work with a wonderful PR agency, Faye Clack on some of their client promotions.  What I love about them is that their clients are “real food” companies – avocados, walnuts and apples for example.  Five of their clients have contributed funds to help me attend IFBC and I couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce my first sponsor – The National Watermelon Promotion Board.

Watermelon is not just delicious but also nutritious.  It’s packed with vitamins and minerals, contains lycopene and is a healthy snack for the whole family. Picking the right melon and storing it correctly are important. On the website, you can learn fun facts, all about different varieties, watermelon history, how watermelon grow and production statistics. Also click to visit a local watermelon festival near you.  They also have coloring books, activity sheets, stickers, and posters available. Here is a link to order free items in the retailer section.

To celebrate the World Cup, The National Watermelon Promotion Board has selected some internationally inspired dishes to add flair and flavour to your soccer celebration.  According to the press release issued a couple of weeks ago,  soccer has become the fastest growing sport in North America. In Canada more than 870,000 Canadians are registered to play soccer, either recreationally or professionally.  The worldwide in-home television audience for the 2006 World Cup was over 24 billion, with Canada accounting for 4 million viewers alone.

This past weekend, I tested four of the recipes from the media kit, approaching them with great curiosity as I don’t traditionally think of using watermelon in my cooking. The results, like those of the World Cup, were interesting…  The descriptions below are taken from the website and there is a link to each recipe.

Balsamic Caramelized Onion Caprese: Italy is known for its fresh produce and competitive nature. Currently ranked fifth in FIFA standings, this homage to the team features juicy watermelon in place of the traditional tomato and is drizzled with aged balsamic for a classic finish.  This dish will inspire you to say “Go team” or should we say, ” Forza, gruppo”?

This was stunning looking (you know, if I do say so myself!), but we were not sold on the flavour combination, mostly because the cheese wasn’t salty enough. I used Fior di Latte mozzarella which is very mild and we all agreed that the sweetness of the watermelon and the caramelized onions needed something sharp and salty like feta to counter the sugar.  In any case, it opened my eyes to a different type of caprese salad and I will definitely attempt it again with feta.  I was proud of my delicious caramelized onion sauce – my first time making that!

Gambas A La Plancha Con Sandía (Grilled Shrimp with Watermelon): In honour of FIFA’s number two ranking team, this popular Spanish tapas features fresh shrimp grilled in a lemongrass and watermelon glaze. Serve with a glass of homemade Sangria.

This was a fabulous dish!  Will definitely be making it again.  The unusual combination of ginger, garlic, lemongrass, soy sauce and watermelon puree didn’t exactly scream “Spain” to us or our guests, but it was so deliciously sweet that we didn’t really care!  The glaze took about 10 minutes to make and the prawns only a few minutes to cook so I will definitely be making this again – we generally have all the ingredients on hand in the summer.  Bonus: It tastes like you spent a long time making it!!!

Watermelon Agua Fresca: Keep hydrated with this refreshing natural beverage. Agua Fresca, Spanish for fresh, cold waters, is a combination of water, fruit and honey blended together and served ice cold. Originating from Mexico (17th in FIFA standings) and popular throughout Central America, Watermelon Agua Fresca makes a nice non-alcoholic alternative.

I made this with sparkling water, hence the frothy effect!  Loved it – the lime juice countered the sweet watermelon and the honey added a smooth sweetness.  I will remember this next time I have a tiny bit of watermelon leftover that isn’t enough to make anything else with.

Blue Cheese Watermelon Walnut Salad. Watermelon is the ultimate summertime indulgence and this tasty summer salad is great on its own or served as a side. Rich blue cheese is paired with sweet candied walnuts as a garnish atop seasonal fruit and leafy greens – the perfect combination of sweet and savoury.

This salad will be joining the summer dinner rotation.  It took literally 10 minutes to put together (after you had caramelized the walnuts but you wouldn’t necessarily have to do this – raw walnuts would work just as well) and was fabulous – sweet and salty (from the soy and the blue cheese).  I can see this working with different fruits (I substituted blueberries for strawberries because that is what I had on hand) as well but I particularly liked the pairing of the blue cheese and the watermelon – it’s a winner!

We also enjoyed the football paraphernalia that came with my watermelon media pack at our dinner on Friday night (thanks!):

This delicious appetizer was provided by Joel but he was not forthcoming with the recipe.  We liked how the chick peas looked like little footballs!

These recipes have really opened my eyes to the different possibilities in the kitchen with watermelon – I had no idea it was so versatile.  I don’t often buy them because it’s a lot of one fruit between two people and we sometimes get sick of it before it’s done. Now I will have no hesitation buying one, safe in the knowledge that there is a lot more to watermelon than its “refreshing summer fruit” persona!

Thanks to Neil, Bonita, Mary Luz, Mario and Joel for  helping me test these recipes out and many thanks to the National Watermelon Promotion Board for helping me get to IFBC!

43 thoughts on “Celebrate with watermelon!”

  1. Mardi,
    I’m surprised you didn’t like the Caprese salad more- I love, love, love it! I think the combo of watermelon, caramelized onions and balsamic is to die for. We used buffalo mozarrella and it was delicious.

    All the recipes you prepared look fabulous! Isn’t the shrimp dish a surprise hit? It’s difficult to explain how good it really is. Hope you had a fun party!


  2. Congrats Mardi, how exciting! While living in Mexico, we always had some type of Agua Fresca with our meals, I remember watermelon being one of my favorites… so refreshing!

  3. Mardi- your dinner was fabulous and the shrimp dish superb! I will be making the Watermelon Agua in 5 minutes myself- can’t wait to try if after looking at your refreshing version! Thanks again for such a gorgeous night of good food in your lovely home!

  4. Congras! That is huge and such good news. Well done and so deserve it. Watermelon = summer = love!

  5. Wow: congrats on the sponsorship! That sounds like a fantastic time, and I know Seattle does a great job with Summer festivals, at least they do with Bumbershoot. I’m a Johnny-come-lately as far as watermelon is concerned. I was like the only kid in the world who thought it more trouble than it was worth, but now with seedless versions, I’ve done a 180 degree turn and make salads all the time with feta or blue cheese and watermelon.

  6. and not to forget an old Ozzie (FIFA standing 20) watermelon party favourite with a Russian (FIFA standing 11) twist – Vodka Slushies.

    Cut hole in top of watermelon, fill with vodka and place whole melon in freezer.

    But now I’m older and wiser Mardi, I do believe I enjoyed the Watermelon Agua Frescas while travelling in Mexico way more than the party version slushie!! (Note to self: must throw some prawns on the barbie – Mardi style & definitely with the accompanying sangria or two!!)

  7. Yum… I planted a watermelon plant in my back yard, but I don’t know how well it’s doing. Now I’m hungry for watermelon! I might have to pick up a few at the market to hold me over until mine are ready to pick (assuming the plant hasn’t died in the meantime).

  8. Do you have a vacuum sealer? If so, you can compress watermelon like they do at the french laundry. Search youtube for a video of it and Thomas Keller has written about it in his book Under Pressure. I just did strawberries and watermelon and was past thrilled with the results. When we ate at the french Laundry last summer I researched everywhere to find out how they compressed their apples and cucumbers and fruits… and now I know. I was thrilled. You certainly have covered some excellent recipes here. I am sure the company is getting their money worth from the quality of your work, Mardi.

    • Another gadget? No, we do not own a vacuum sealer – we literally have NO ROOM for any more kitchen gadgets except the absolute essentials… Keller’s Under Pressure is on my (long) list of books for the summer so I will look forward to reading about that. Thanks for your sweet words, Valerie.

  9. Yes, the salad was perfect for a hot summer night. Totally agree on replacing cheese for the caprese – was a bit bland, I thought.

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  11. i LOVE watermelon – it’s one of my favorite fruits – and in fact i just finished a sandia licuado – the guatemalan version of the agua fresca. it’s the best thing to do with leftover watermelon, and it’s even better with some fresh mint whirled up in the blender with it. and vodka. that’s good too. 😉


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