Vail seasonal: Watermelon is a summer slice of Life
VAIL VALLEY, Colorado -They’re festive, they’re healthy, they’re limited only by your imagination, Vail Valley. July is National Watermelon Month and whether you knew that or not, this tasty fruit will probably be the star at any picnic or party you attend.Watermelons are terrific vessels – they can be carved into a plethora of shapes to hold fruit salad or a refreshing punch. Early settlers actually used watermelons as canteens. Today’s party hosts can find tons of carving suggestions with photos on the National Watermelon Promotion Board’s Web site – http://www.watermelon.org. When buying watermelon for a crowd plan on 11 cups of edible fruit per five pound melon. Choose a watermelon that feels heavy for its size, which indicates that it is juicy and fresh. There are over 200 varieties of watermelon; the most popular and most readily accessible are picnic, seedless, ice box, yellow flesh and mini-watermelon. It’s an easy crop to grow, even the desert king yellow, which will grow in arid climates.Consisting mostly of water, consider watermelon the ultimate diet food. A one-cup serving has only 48 calories and provides up to 25 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin C. Eating watermelon will quench your thirst and cool you off on a hot summer day. In addition to vitamin C, watermelon provides vitamin E for eye health and vitamin B6, which creates the brain’s neurotransmitters, calming anxiety and panic.Though known primarily as a picnic food, watermelon shows up in a variety of more elegant dishes in restaurants. Jeremy Kittelson, executive chef at Restaurant Avondale, says they are perfect in salads. “Watermelon adds a juicy crunch in a salad,” he said. “Its sweetness is a good complement to spicy peppers. It also pairs well with fish.” Kittelson suggests a simple preparation for a summery main dish salad: Toss salad greens with your favorite vinaigrette dressing and place on one side of a plate. Slice watermelon thin and place on the other side of the plate. Sear yellowfin tuna on each side, keeping the inside rare. Slice the tuna thin and layer atop the watermelon. Drizzle additional vinaigrette over the fish.Brian Harker, Avondale’s bar manager, recommends trying watermelon in cocktails. “It makes a fun garnish in a variety of shapes,” Harker said. “Or, make a watermelon granita to add a lot of flavor.” One of the most recognized advocates of watermelon is Wally Amos, of the Famous Amos cookie empire. Along with building his cookie business, Amos has written 13 books, many of which are motivational or self-help. His best-selling “Watermelon Magic: Seeds of Wisdom, Slices of Life” uses watermelon as a metaphor for life. He parallels watermelon and humans saying “Just as the vine connects watermelons and the umbilical cord connects mother and child, we are all connected by spirit.”Tomato, Feta and Watermelon Salad4 large heirloom tomatoes, cut in thick wedges4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled1 pint yellow teardrop tomatoes, sliced in half2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and sliced into thin rounds4 one-inch thick slices of watermelon1/2 cup fresh mint leaves1/4 cup balsamic vinegar1 teaspoon Dijon mustard3/4 cup extra virgin olive oilSalt & pepperArrange tomatoes, watermelon, jalapenos, feta and mint decoratively on four plates. Combine balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard. Whisk in olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle each salad with vinaigrette. Pass remaining vinaigrette when serving. Serves 4.Sandia Granita1 heaping tablespoon Watermelon Granita*2 basil leaves1/2 ounce agave nectar1 ounce fresh lemon juice2 1/2 ounces oronoco rumCombine all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker. Shake and strain into a tall, ice-filled glass. Garnish with watermelon granita balls and a basil leaf. *Watermelon Granita 1 1/2 cups water3/4 cup sugar 2 pints pureed watermelonBring water to a boil, add sugar, stir to dissolve. Let syrup cool to room temperature. Combine syrup and watermelon in a shallow pan. Place in freezer till frozen. Sue Barham is the marketing director for Larkspur Restaurant and Restaurant Avondale. Larkspur, at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American Classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999. Avondale opened in September 2008 in the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa and features a West Coast inspired, market driven menu.