At the outset let me ask you a simple question. What is the similarity between a slice of watermelon and a smile? You are stumped, are you not? The answer is very simple. They are very similar in shape. Besides one slurpy bite into a slice of watermelon leaves most faces beaming.
Did you know that watermelon belongs to the same species as cucumber, pumpkin and squash and therefore is a vegetable and not a fruit as we think it is. When I researched a little more into the history of this delightful fruit, oops I mean vegetable, I found that the first recorded watermelon harvest was done in Egypt nearly 5,000 years ago.
Another amusing story I came to know is that a watermelon was thrown at Roman governor Demosthenes during a political debate. Apparently he placed the vegetable on his head and thanked the thrower for providing him with a helmet to wear when he fought Philip of Macedonia.
What a smile
As I said there is a similarity between a slice of watermelon and a smile and whether it's the embarrassment of having sticky, sweet juice trickle down your chin, or the memories of youthful seed-spitting contests, one slurpy bite is guaranteed to leave most faces beaming.
As per records available watermelon originated in Egypt and later was spread to the countries along the Mediterranean sea by merchant ships sailing in those waters. It reached China by the 10th century, and today, it is the world's number one producer of watermelons.
Russia was introduced to this vegetable via China and by the 13th century the rest of Europe came to share its lusciousness. Some food historians feel watermelon made its way to the United States with African slaves.
How good is watermelon
The edible part of this wonder vegetable consists mostly of water, 95.8%. The other nutrients present are 0.2% protein, 0.2% fat, 3.3% carbohydrates and 0.3% minerals as well as vitamin A, B6 and C. It also contains fibre and potassium. Watermelon has virtually no fat or cholesterol.
It is the presence of lycopene, which is a fat-soluble antioxidant, that gives watermelon its sensual red colour. And this makes watermelon refreshing and sweet. Also it's a healthy food choice that may help reduce the risks of cancer and other diseases. Antioxidant carotenoids found in watermelon include significant amounts of beta-caroten which like lycopene, increases with ripening.
How to select a watermelon
There is a popular myth that one should thump and shake the watermelon to know if the vegetable is good whereas some experts feel that the only way to know it is good or not is to cut it open and taste it.
Unfortunately in the market you will not be able to cut it and open, so to ensure you are buying a good one see that it is firm, free of bruises, cuts, dents and is light in colour. The lighter green it is, the sweeter it is.
When you lift it up, it should be heavy for its size since it contains 92% water.
Store it at room temperature and it will stay good for seven to ten days. If stored for longer it can lose flavour and texture. Do not freeze it for it will get a mealy and mushy texture.
Watermelon can bring out the artist in you and if you are good at carving. At most banquets you would often find a beautiful table centrepiece carved out of a watermelon. Such is the structure of this vegetable that it lends itself beautifully to the carver’s knife.
Watermelon in the kitchen
Wash the watermelon thoroughly before cutting it. You may find it a bit difficult to wash it under running water due to its large size in which case you can definitely clean with a wet cloth or a wet paper towel.
There are many ways to cut a watermelon. The flesh can sliced or cubed or scooped out with a parisienne scoop. This is ideal for a salad which can be either sweet or savoury.
Watermelon juice is in great demand during the hot summer days since it has the quality to soothe a parched throat. And because it has a high content of water, it is very easy to digest.
I believe the Saraswats use the white part of the watermelon to make soft and fluffy dosas. The white flesh is grated and ground with soaked rice to make a slightly coarse batter. These dosas are slightly thick and taste delightful with a blob of fresh homemade white butter.
Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.