(July 21) Cool, juicy melons symbolize summer and can lighten and brighten your menu. But if your melon repertoire primarily features honeydew, watermelon and cantaloupe, consider adding some specialty varieties.
The colors, aromas and flavors of such specialty varieties as butterscotch, eden’s gem, ha’ogen and charantais will differentiate your menu and may reveal some signature summer dishes for your establishment.
EXPLORE THE OPTIONS
Check with specialty suppliers for eye-catching rinds, brilliant interior colors, unusual flavors and interesting names.
Charantais melons are the size of a large softball and have a honeylike flavor. Sometimes called the French breakfast melon, charantais melons are available from January through May. The rind is tan with green stripes, and the flesh is vivid orange. The smaller size makes the rind of the charantais ideal for hollowing and using as a holding vessel, Faulkner says. Combine these melons with raspberries, blackberries and strawberries and garnish with star fruit slices to create a unique salad.
Although somewhat new to the U.S., charantais melons represent a host of varieties, says Gwen Kvavli Gulliksen, division vice president for Pro*Act Specialties-Harvest Sensations, Los Angeles. “What we see here in the United States is one of many varieties. I think the charantais melon will develop into its own right, and you’ll start seeing more varieties in the future,” she says.
Miniwatermelons let your customers enjoy the flavor of classic watermelon in a novel way. “Miniwatermelons are perfect because they’re personal-sized and seedless. They also have good eye appeal and the flavor’s great,” Faulkner says.
The small size means less waste, says Robert Schueller, assistant marketing director for Melissa’s/World Variety Produce Inc., Los Angeles. Although harvest peaks in the summer, miniwatermelons are gradually becoming available year-round, he adds.
Use miniwatermelons in cold soups or serve watermelon balls in the rind. Chris Faulkner, corporate chef for Melissa’s, has carved various designs to accent the dish, including flowers, palm trees and words.
Sprite melons are another smaller melon abundant during the summer. The 4- to 5-inch diameter melons weigh from 1 to 1.5 pounds each and make a convenient single-serving size. Its flavor is a blend of pear, honeydew and watermelon. The flesh is white and crisp, similar to an apple. The rind turns from cream to white or mottled with yellow when ripe. Several brown, concentric cracks may appear at the stem end. These indicate a high sugar content, Schueller says. The melon’s sugar content can reach as high as 18%, about 5% higher than other varieties.
Queen Anne’s pocket melon is one of many heirloom varieties slowly making its way to the commercial market. Heirloom melons are a category to watch to enhance your menu with a creative touch, Gulliksen says.
According to legend, Queen Anne of England carried these melons in her pockets as perfumed sachets. History does not record which Queen Anne used them in this way, but offering these melons and describing their fragrant lore no doubt will foster lively table conversation. These melons also are known as plumgrannies and are available July through October.
“Queen Anne’s pocket melons are about the size of an egg. They are yellow and orange variegated and super aromatic,” Gulliksen says. Their flavor is very light honeydewlike. She suggests using the fruit in a lobster or shellfish salad and serving it in the colorful rind. For a miniature melon dessert, fill the rinds with ice cream.
Ha’Ogen melons are another heirloom variety. Originating in Israel, these melons are about the size of a softball and are available late June through mid-October. The rind is golden yellow with green stripes while the flesh is green with tinged salmon color around the seed cavity. Ha’Ogen melons combine the flavors of guava and banana, says Alexander Weiser, owner of Weiser Family Farms, Lucerne Valley, Calif. “It’s a very tasty, aromatic melon with a spicy flavor.”
“You could use (the melon) in anything that you use honeydew for, but it tastes a thousand times better. It tastes like lime and apricot blossom. It’s very tropical,” Gulliksen says.
Santa Claus melons are known for their long shelf life and mild, sweet flavor. Also known as Christmas melons, they can be stored uncut for several months, even up to the Christmas holiday, though the season usually runs June through September. That puts them at a disadvantage, Gulliksen says. “They are never, ever sold ripe, so they get a bad rap,” she says. At retail, their flesh likely will be white, which indicates the fruit has not fully ripened to its normal gold tinge with green to solid green flesh.
Sharlyne melons look like an elongated cantaloupe with a thinner, netted rind. Their flavor is a cross between honeydew and cantaloupe, Schueller says. “They are always a popular seasonal fruit in foodservice,” he adds. Its season runs June through September.
The pale green to white flesh is extremely sweet and edible down to the rind. Eat it alone, or for added flavor, sprinkle ginger, salt and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice over it. It also makes a good ingredient for tropical drinks such as daiquiris.
Galia melons look like a cantaloupe on the outside and a honeydew on the inside and are available June through September. The flavor blends the tastes of those two fruits. Also called the dessert melon, galia melons are extremely juicy and sweet.
Try Faulkner’s recipe for galia melon in coconut milk. To prepare a dish for eight, stir together one 14-ounce can of unsweetened coconut milk, 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1½ tablespoons of lime juice in a metal bowl until the sugar dissolves. Chill. Scoop melon into balls, divide into eight dishes and pour coconut milk over the top.
Casaba melons have wrinkled golden yellow skin with a green hue and a slight point at the stem end. Their light green flesh is juicy and lightly sweet.
They first were introduced to the United States in the late 19th century from Kasaba, Turkey, and are available June through September.
For an easy, light dessert, combine 1/3 cup of water, 2 tablespoons of minced fresh mint and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan. Stir over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to simmer and remove from heat. Cover and let stand at room temperature two hours or overnight. Strain syrup, stir in 1/3 cup of port wine and 2 tablespoons of the mint. Arrange melon slices on a platter and pour port syrup over it. Cover and chill two hours and garnish with mint sprigs.
BEYOND FRUIT SALAD
Although they are beautiful and delicious served alone or with others in a standard fruit salad, melons of all types offer many uses and applications. Experiment with flavors, herbs, spices and textures to create new dishes and accompaniments.
Try melons in salad dressings. Pro*Act’s Gulliksen prefers simple ways to incorporate melons to top salads. For example, take your favorite vinegar and oil recipe and simply add melon puree to it. For a flavor twist, substitute orange juice for the vinegar. “It will give it a subtle, sweeter taste and people will wonder what makes it taste so good,” she says.
Use moderate amounts of spices such as curry and fresh herbs like chervil, tarragon, mint and chives in a melon salad dressing. “Melons don’t need much enhancement,” Gulliksen says. “I would go very sparingly with any kind of garlic.”
Melon soups are refreshing and easy to make, Gulliksen says. First puree melon and add apple juice or orange juice to thin it, then blend in a processor. Add yogurt to thicken the soup, if necessary, although experiment first because discoloration may occur. For extra flavor, consider adding semisweet champagne or wasabi cream. “Even though I was hesitant about it at first, the wasabi cream gives it a tiny little spice kick that’s very good,” she says.
For a more colorful dish, create a masterpiece by spinning orange and green melon soups together.
Top your favorite meats with melon relishes. Gulliksen first cubes the melon, then adds splashes of Japanese rice wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Then she adds chopped cilantro, chives and dill, drizzles the mixture with lime juice and stirs to blend the flavors.
For a twist on crab cakes, finely dice the melons and add the mixture to miniature crab cakes, she suggests.
Any melon makes a delicious salsa. For example, cut a sprite melon into half-inch cubes. Combine in a bowl with chopped red, yellow and orange bell peppers, red onion, cilantro and lime juice. Chill for several hours and serve as a side dish with grilled chicken breasts, according to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Kinston, Web site (www.ncagr.com).
A light, airy melon dessert is minutes away. Fold nondairy whipped topping into mashed melon seasoned with a dash of salt. Garnish with mint leaves and other fruit, including pieces of the featured melon.
Melons make great sorbets, Melissa’s Faulkner says. After discarding the rind and seeds, puree the melon. Make a simple syrup with equal parts water and sugar. Bring the syrup to a boil, cool and add water again. Add to food processor and spin to a creamy consistency. After freezing, accent a scoop of the sorbet with berries and garnish with mint leaves.