Watermelons from Colorado’s Rocky Ford melon fields are rolling into markets, and the choices might surprise you. “We are growing four varieties this year,” said Michael Hirakata, owner of Hirakata Farms in Rocky Ford. “Seeded red, seedless red, seedless yellow and a personal seedless red.”

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That last option is relatively new. Personal seedless watermelons are smaller and weigh 4 to 6 pounds.

“They are just as sweet and juicy, yet easier to lug around,” said Michael Bartolo, of the Colorado State University Arkansas Valley Research Center. “With the cooler spring weather, growth was off to a slow start. However, the heat has returned with abundance, and things are growing well and catching up to the normal harvest time slot.”

With all of these colorful watermelons ripe and available, thoughts often turn to a big hollowed-out green melon shell holding a bounty of fruit. It’s the quintessential centerpiece, right?

This is a simple and reliable crowd-pleaser, but why not think outside the rind? Hirakata shared his favorite way to present — and then devour — melons.

“I like to put watermelon mixed with cantaloupe, honeydew and cucumbers and sprinkle a little tajin on and a squirt of lime. Very delicious,” he said.

Tajin is a salty, Mexican chile-lime spice that brings out the natural flavors of many foods, adding a kick all its own.

With that for inspiration, we gathered some ideas to get adventurous with the juicy fruit. For instance, put them on the grill. You thought grilling was just for meat and veggies? Think again with our recipe for Thai-inspired spicy grilled watermelon. The natural sugar in watermelon caramelizes on a sizzling hot grill, giving slices or cubes on skewers contrasting grill marks on the ruby flesh of the fruit and a delicious flavor. With the addition of Thai seasonings — garlic chile sauce, lime juice, honey and chopped cilantro — the dish is irresistible.

How about a watermelon chutney that uses the fruit and the rind? That’s what Mireille Roc, a New York-based personal chef and food photographer, made to win the juice category of the 2018 Use the Whole Watermelon recipe contest. The relish turned exotic with warm Indian spices that added notes of hot and cool and flavors that complemented the sweet watermelon juice.

Even gazpacho isn’t safe from the creative at heart. The tomatoes sit this one out as the cold soup is turned into a colorful mash-up of the remaining traditional ingredients with watermelon, making this a game-changer.

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And if you select small personal seedless melons, you can use them as bowls for serving. Cut the melons in half between the blossom and stem ends. Scoop out the fruit and use the empty rinds for bowls. Trim a thin slice off the bottoms to keep the bowls from wobbling.

Need some inspiration for a zesty, crunchy salsa? We have you covered with a dish using cubes of watermelon, jicama, carrots, purple cabbage, yellow sweet banana pepper and lime juice.

“After a long, hot day of working outside, in the 100-degree heat, there is nothing like coming home to a traditional frosty, cold watermelon wedge,” said Brooke Proctor, with Proctor Produce in Rocky Ford. “However, also a big hit at our house is watermelon limeade and watermelon smoothies. Since watermelon is known for its hydrating properties, I think it is a great refreshing drink to serve my family during the summer.

“Sometimes I add Sprite or ginger ale for a splash of fizz. I have also been known to add a couple of ounces of vodka or whiskey for an evening kick when I’m entertaining.”

Another crowd-pleaser is the watermelon mojito. It’s not only pink and pretty, but also tasty and refreshing.

Grilled Spicy Watermelon

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

1 tablespoon lime zest

1/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons garlic chili sauce

Pinch salt

1 watermelon, medium sized

1 tablespoon fresh chopped cilantro

Procedure:

Preheat grill to high. In bowl, whisk together lime zest, juice, 3 tablespoons of the honey, garlic chili sauce and salt.

Cut watermelon into 1-inch thick wedges. Lightly drizzle each side with remaining honey and place on grill. Grill until just browned, about 2 minutes per side. Place watermelon slices on a plate and drizzle with lime dressing. Garnish with cilantro.

Watermelon Chutney

Yield: Varies

1 tablespoon oil

2 chillies (green)

1 inch piece of ginger

10 curry leaves (can substitute zest of 1 ½ limes)

1/2 onion

1 teaspoon cumin seed

1 cup grated watermelon rind (white part only)

2 cups watermelon juice, unstrained

1/2 cup vinegar

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

Procedure:

In a food processor, coarsely chop chillies, ginger, curry leaves and onion.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, heat the oil.

Add cumin seed and fry for about 30 seconds until it starts to change color. Add chopped vegetables from the food processor. Saute until they soften, about 2 minutes. Add watermelon rind, juice, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, salt, cayenne pepper and garam masala. Bring to a boil. Boil for 20 minutes stirring occasionally, until thickened and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Chill and serve with crackers as a snack or with your favorite flatbread.

Source: Mirelille Roc, theschizochef.com

Watermelon Crunch Salsa

Yield: 12 servings

4 cups 1/4 inch cubed seedless watermelon

2 cups 1/4 inch cubed jicama

1 cup 1/4 inch cubed carrots

2 cups minced purple cabbage

1 cup minced sweet yellow banana or bell peppers

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

6 limes (juice from the fresh squeezed limes)

Dash of sea salt for taste

Procedure:

Prepare each ingredient and toss together just before serving.

Watermelon Gazpacho

Yield: 4 servings

5 cups Chopped Seedless Watermelon

1/2 cup Chopped yellow onion

1/2 cup Chopped green peppers

1/2 - 1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

2 teaspoons chopped jalapeno

1 tablespoon lime juice

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

1 cup finely chopped seedless Watermelon, reserved for garnish

1/2 - 1 cup finely diced avocado, reserved (optional)

Procedure:

Puree the first 10 ingredients in a blender until smooth. Adjust the seasonings as needed. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour. Stir in the finely chopped watermelon and avocado at serving time.

Watermelon Mojito

Yield: 2 servings

30 mint leaves

1 large lime juiced and some pulp is needed

2 tablespoons sugar

2 cups ice

4 fluid ounces white rum

1/2 cup liquefied fresh watermelon

1/2 cup club soda

Diced watermelon (optional)

Mint leaves and small slices of watermelon

Procedure:

Place mint leaves, lime juice and pulp, and sugar in a medium pitcher. Use a muddler to crush mint and blend juice and sugar. Add the ice, rum, watermelon juice, and club soda. Stir, taste, and add more sugar or lime to taste. Add a few diced watermelon cubes if desired and garnish each glass with mint and a thin slice of watermelon.

Watermelon Limeade

Yield: 2 servings

2 cups fresh watermelon juice

1/2 cup fresh lime juice

Lime wedge or fresh mint sprig, optional

Procedure:

Combine watermelon and lime juice. Garnish with lime wedge or mint leaf if desired.

Source: Brooke Proctor

contact the writer: 636-0271.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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