Monday, 16 December 2013

Watermelon Bites with Lemon-Balm Sugar

Crisp, ice-cold triangles of watermelon skewered with the bamboo 'ribs' from an inexpensive Chinese fan, then sprinkled with mint, or with a citrussy finish of granulated white sugar pounded with lemon balm.

Watermelon Bites with Lemon-Balm Sugar
Watermelon Bites with Lemon Balm. Plate by David Walters.

This is a lovely way to serve watermelon in cheeky little bites if you're expecting guests on a hot day. Watermelon has strong associations with the festive season in South Africa, because midsummer is when this fruit comes into high season. (May I have a little moan about how ruinously expensive watermelons are at the moment? Last week I saw some puny specimens at my local supermarket, each one selling for a whopping R79. Who can afford that these days?)

Watermelon Bites with Lemon-Balm Sugar
The ribs from a fan make pretty skewers. 
The fan-rib skewers? I came up with this idea a few years back, as a way of serving dragon fruit.  I buy these pretty fans by the dozen in summer because they cost next to nothing and are so useful for doling out to hot & bothered friends and family as the festive season comes swinging in. Fans like these can be bought at any Chinese shop or market.

If you don't have a fan to rip to pieces, simply pile the triangles high on a large platter and sprinkle with leaves or pounded sugar immediately before you serve them.

You will need to cut the peel off the watermelon triangles if your fan has delicate, bendy 'ribs', or they may droop under the weight.

Watermelon Bites with Lemon-Balm Sugar
Crunchy sugar pounded with lemon balm 
And on that topic: these are good with mint, but sensational with lemon-balm sugar. When I'd finished taking snaps of a batch, and I'd handed them out to family members lurking in the kitchen, my son complained that the taste of the mint leaves was 'ruining' the delicate watermelon flavour (he has the most sensitive palate in the family).

So I cut up another batch, and this time sprinkled the triangles with lemon balm and sugar. You can't buy lemon balm in supermarkets, but it's available at every nursery and garden centre, and it's worth buying a plant, because it will flourish in your garden: it's a vigorous herb requiring very little attention.

I imagine these would also taste heavenly with lemon verbena.

If you like this idea, try my recipe for ice-cold prickly pears with frozen rosemary sugar.



Watermelon Bites with Lemon-Balm Sugar
  • one half of a large, seedless, chilled watermelon
  • a handful of fresh mint or lemon balm leaves (about a third of a cup/80 ml, loosely packed)
  • one third of a cup (80 ml) granulated white sugar
First get your skewers ready.  Tear away the fabric on the fan and remove any blobs of glue. Snip through the little plastic 'stalk' that holds the fan's ribs together.

Cut the melon into half-moon slices about 5 - 7 mm thick. Now slice these into dainty triangles, as shown in the first picture, above. Cut off the peel if your bamboo ribs are very delicate (see my notes above).

To achieve some uniformity, use the first triangle you cut as a template for the rest.  There will be some wastage, but don't throw the left-over bits away.  Put them into a zip-lock bag or lidded plastic box and sling them into the freezer for use in future smoothies.

Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut a deep slit into the peel side of each triangle and push the thinner end of each bamboo rib deep into the fruit.  Refrigerate.

Just before you serve the watermelon, place the leaves and sugar into a mortar and pound energetically until you have a rough green powder.  Sprinkle this over the triangles and serve immediately.

Makes about 24 bites, depending on the size of your watermelon. 

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1 comment:

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