Watermelon season in Southern Ontario is short and sweet, as the seeds need warm soil to get started and the plants need a hot and long growing season. In my first year of gardening I was super excited about trying all the weird and wonderful heirloom varieties of watermelons (there are more than I ever imaged), but I couldn’t grow my seedlings beyond a few inches. I see others growing watermelons in my area, but I have yet to have them thrive in my garden and am super thankful for the delicious watermelons at the markets and grocery stores. This summer has been especially hot and dry and I can’t seem to get enough water, so watermelon (at ~92% water) has been a very welcome source of hydration.
My mom is the queen of fruit shopping, always summoning the sweetest and juiciest specimens into her cart. When you ask for her secrets, she gives a few practical tips, but ultimately seems to rely on a mysterious connection with the fruit, an ability to pick out those that are “making eye contact with her”.
Unfortunately I don’t often get to do grocery shopping with my mom and when I stand in front of a large pile of identical-looking watermelons, they avoid my gaze at all costs. Not a wink or glance of encouragement come my direction, so I have to rely on my physical senses to figure out which one to bring home. Here are a couple of tips:
1) Look for a really firm watermelon. Before you start picking them up, feel them over, pressing your fingers into the rind, without damaging the watermelon, of course, to make sure that it’s firm, crisp, and fresh.
2) The watermelon should be symmetrical without any dents or blemishes and have a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground, a sign that it was ripened in the sun.
3) Lift it up to make sure that it feels heavy for its size. You’ll often see people tapping the watermelon, listening to the sounds and feeling the vibrations. To be honest, I have yet to master this technique, but my mom says that there are indeed subtle differences in how good watermelons sound and feel, and I have seen grocery clerks do it as well when I ask them for help. So maybe just start by paying attention and seeing if you can spot a correlation between good-tasting watermelons and how they feel and sound.
4) Don’t be afraid to ask others! I always find that farmers at the market and grocery store clerks are happy to share their tips and point you in the direction of a sweet and ripe watermelon.
Since I’ve been posting a lot of sweets, I knew that I wanted to make today’s recipe savoury. Like grilled pineapple and peaches, grilled watermelon is a nice surprise and is really delicious! You don’t want to cook it thoroughly, but a little bit of heat and a few gentle kisses from the grill bring out a really interesting sweet and smoky flavour. Like feta, halloumi is BFFs with watermelon! Its briny flavour pairs really well with sweet and juicy watermelon and it’s also a perfect candidate for the grill, as it has a relatively high smoke point and won’t melt all over your BBQ (unless it’s too hot). I’ve found that there’s a huge range in the flavour and salinity of halloumi out there, and that artisanal brands (often found at the farmer’s market) are a lot better than the supermarket varieties that I’ve tried. Try to source a traditional goat’s or sheep’s milk halloumi (or a blend, which is common), as the cow’s milk version lacks the distinctive halloumi flavour. The watermelon and halloumi flavours really come through in these skewers, so they’ll only be as good as the ingredients you start with.
Check out watermelon.org for many more creative and interesting ways to enjoy watermelon this summer!
- 1lb watermelon cubes (~16 1" cubes) (seedless or seeds removed)
- 1lb halloumi, cubed (~12 1" cubes)
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 limes
- a handful of fresh mixed herbs and flowers (I used mint, a few different types of basil, and anise hyssop), for garnish
- toasted pumpkin seeds, for garnish
- a few jalapno slices, for garnish
- flaky sea salt
- Preheat the grill to medium/high heat and oil the grates.
- Starting with watermelon, skewer alternate pieces of watermelon and halloumi onto 4 large wooden or metal skewers and brush each skewer with olive oil.
- Grill the skewers for about a minute on each of the 4 sides (4 - 5 minutes total). Halloumi has a relatively high melting point, but it will melt if the heat is too high. It should start to soften a little bit, but lower your heat if it starts melting.
- Top the skewers with fresh herbs, toasted pumpkin seeds, jalapeno slices, a squeeze of lime juice, a drizzle of olive oil, and a few generous sprinkles of flaky sea salt. Serve immediately, with extra lime wedges and salt.