One in a Melon: A Chef’s Ode to Watermelons (with recipes!)

By Executive Chef Mayet Cristobal 

Chef Mayet is being honored during 2021’s Chef Appreciation Week.

Summer might just be my favorite season, and in California it lasts well into September. I look forward to weekend beach trips and love the carefree feelings that summer brings. Near the top of my “all things summer” list are the summer crops! The ripest tomatoes, the sweetest corn, the best berries, the tastiest eggplant, the juiciest peach, the perfect watermelon…it’s quite a long list
All these musings about the season reminded me of the time when my grandparents owned farmlands in the Philippines. My grandparents raised rice, corn, and melons, along with this chef-to-be. I remember those wonderful times: hot, humid, carefree, and full of love. We ate steamed corn, sucked on sugar cane stalks, split twin pops, shared halo-halo, roasted cashews over bonfires at night, and consumed unimaginable amounts of mangoes and watermelons. Watermelons were the best treats during those hot summer days in the tropics.

I remember trekking a narrow dike to the watermelon fields with my cousins and sister, armed with a spoon in our pockets. Someone from the team would confirm that a watermelon was ready for eating by snapping their fingers on the melon’s skin with an ear pressed against the rind. We all memorized the sound that indicated the perfect ripeness. We would cut several of the watermelons from their vines, take them into our hut, and crack them open with our tiny fists. Then spoons were then taken out of our pockets, and we ate until we were full and satisfied, with sticky watermelon juice running down our chins and arms.

My 11-year-old son seemed mildly amused by this story. It was way before his time, perhaps even too primitive for him to understand. After all, watermelon can now be bought pre-cut in a container (with a spoon!) at any supermarket. And seedless! It was simply a different time and place, and I was lucky enough to be there.
I like eating watermelons just as they are, but they are also great in salads and beverages. Here are some watermelon recipes to enjoy during your carefree summer days.

Fresh Watermelon with Whipped Feta and Sumac
1 small watermelon, peeled and cut into large cubes or wedges
Whipped feta (recipe below)
2 teaspoons sumac spice
Fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
1 cup toasted sunflower seeds
Sea salt

To compose the salad:
Place the whipped feta in a large salad plate and spread throughout the entire surface of the bowl. Place the watermelon pieces on the top of the whipped feta. Top the watermelon with sumac, fresh mint leaves, toasted sunflower seeds, and a touch of sea salt. Eat.

Whipped Feta
1 cup of low fat Greek yogurt
½ cup crumbled feta
Cracked black pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and whip with a whisk until smooth. You can also use a food processor to get a smoother texture.

Watermelon Spritzer with Rosemary and Citrus
2 cups watermelon chunks, seedless
1 tablespoon of sugar
2 cups of white wine
1 cup of carbonated water or club soda
Fresh rosemary
Watermelon and citrus wedges to garnish
Place the watermelon chunks and sugar in a blender and process until well blended. Pass the processed watermelon through a strainer. Discard the watermelon pulp and place the strained juice in a pitcher. Add the wine and club soda to the juice. Serve over ice and garnish with rosemary, watermelon, and citrus.