Cool as a Cantaloupe: Recipes and More

Celebrate National Melon Day with melon-y tips and fun facts plus refreshing sweet and savory cantaloupe (this Caprese on a Stick) and watermelon recipes
Cantaloupe Caprese on a Stick

PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY BRENNAN, FOOD STYLING LARA MIKLASEVICS

There’s nothing that quite compares to a refreshing bite of cool melon on a hot summer day. Even the ancient Egyptians were sweet on them—melons appear in Egyptian tomb paintings dating back to 2400 B.C. Many melons are available year-round, but the peak season is late summer to early fall, so now is a perfect time to “celebrate” this fruit—especially with National Melon Day on Aug. 14.

A Bit About Melon Varieties

Melons belong to the gourd family, which includes squash and pumpkin, and are divided into two broad categories—muskmelon and watermelon. Within the muskmelon category are those with netted skins (think cantaloupe) and those with smooth skins (such as honeydew). All muskmelons have seeds in a fibrous center hollow, whereas the seeds in watermelon are scattered throughout the flesh.

Cantaloupe: A true cantaloupe is a European melon that is not usually exported to the United States. What we call a cantaloupe here is actually a muskmelon. When ripe, these 3- to 5-pound melons have skins with raised netting on a smooth grayish-beige background and pale orange flesh that is very sweet and juicy.

Honeydew: These melons range from 4 to 8 pounds and have a smooth, creamy yellow rind and pastel green flesh that’s very juicy and sweet. When ripe there will be a slight wrinkling on the skin’s surface that is only detectable by touch.

Watermelon: Summer certainly wouldn’t be the same without the thirst-quenching goodness of watermelon. As the name suggests, it is made up of a high percentage of water—92%, in fact. There are about 50 varieties on the market but they taste much the same, varying mostly by size. The large, elongated variety with a variegated two-toned green or gray-green rind is the most popular. These average 15 to 35 pounds, but can vary depending on the variety. The many shiny black seeds scattered throughout the sweet pinkish-red flesh have starred in seed-spitting contents for generations. The flesh of other watermelon varieties ranges from white to yellow or pink and the seeds dotting the flesh can be black, brown, green, red, or white. Seedless watermelons usually have a few seeds scattered throughout, but these small, soft seeds are edible.

Selecting

When selecting melons, choose ones that are heavy for their size. Muskmelons will not get any sweeter after they are picked, though the flesh will soften. When ripe, most are soft at the blossom end and you can detect a sweet perfumy smell.

Netted-skinned melons: Check to see that the spot where it was removed from the vine is indented and scarred. Avoid those with a shriveled stem still attached, indicating that it was picked too early.

Smooth-skinned varieties: The blossom end should be soft and fragrant and tiny “freckles” on the skin can be a sign of sweetness.

Watermelon: Look for symmetrical melons without any flat sides. Ripe watermelons should make a hollow thump when slapped. The rind should be dull, not shiny, and just barely yield to pressure. If purchasing a sliced watermelon, check to see that the flesh looks brightly colored and not grainy or dry.

Serving

Always wash melons with water before cutting to remove any impurities that might be on the rind and could be transferred from the knife to the flesh when cut.

Enjoy melons from breakfast through dinner and dessert. Top chunks with strawberry yogurt and sprinkle with granola to start the day. A classic mix of cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon makes a delicious fruit salad, and you can mix it up with grapes, blueberries, kiwi, strawberries, or other fruit. A melon kebab is an attractive way to serve these fruits at a party, and kids would enjoy the fun presentation anytime—alternate cantaloupe (or other orange-fleshed melon), honeydew, and watermelon on a bamboo skewer for a colorful snack. For savory selections, wrap melon wedges or cubes with prosciutto, serve it with cottage cheese, or add to chicken or seafood salad. For a sweet treat, serve melon with vanilla ice cream, drizzle with flavored syrup such as hazelnut or orange, or top with whipped cream and coconut.

And here is a quick-and-easy recipe for a different take on the caprese salad using cantaloupe. Plus, scroll down for more recipes.

Cantaloupe Caprese on a Stick

Makes 12 Skewers | Recipe by Robin Asbell for Real Food

The classic flavors of a Caprese salad are just as delectable with juicy cantaloupe in place of tomatoes. Shaking it up a little with the fruity melon balls, skewered on sticks, will make sure everyone wants one—or two. Boiling balsamic vinegar for about 10 minutes allows you to create a simple, syrupy glaze to drizzle over the skewers for a tangy-sweet finish.

1 cup balsamic vinegar
12 (6-inch) wooden skewers
3 pounds cantaloupe
1 pound fresh mozzarella balls (1-inch wide “cherry size”)
48 fresh basil leaves

  1. Place the balsamic vinegar in a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Once it comes to a boil, reduce to a vigorous simmer and cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely.
  2. Make 36 melon balls. On each skewer, thread 1 cantaloupe ball, 1 basil leaf and 1 ball of mozzarella, and repeat until each skewer has 3 melon balls and 2 mozzarella balls, with a total of 4 basil leaves between them. Place on a platter or in a storage tub. Can be tightly covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
  3. Just before serving, drizzle the skewers with the balsamic reduction and serve immediately.

Nutrition info Cantaloupe Caprese On a Stick (Per Serving): Calories 110; Fat 5g (Sat. 3g); Chol 19mg; Sodium 149mg; Carb 11g; Fiber 1g; Added Sugars 0g; Protein 6g

Hungry for More?

Check out these recipes I have highlighted on this site:

Rum and Molasses Marinated Beef Kebabs with Grilled Cantaloupe

PHOTOGRAPHY TERRY BRENNAN, FOOD STYLING LARA MIKLASEVICS

Rum and Molasses Marinated Beef Kebabs with Grilled Cantaloupe Recipe

Get fired up for a taste of the tropics in sizzling grilled kebabs by meat expert Bruce Aidells.

Watermelon Pizza Alla Italia

National Watermelon Board

5 Watermelon Recipes with a Twist

Switch things up with these cool watermelon recipes from salads to dessert that both kids and adults will enjoy throughout the summer—plus links to more recipes.

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.