Sweet melons speel summer: low-calorie fruit in abundant supply
Summer is officially here, and that means sweet, juicy melons are in abundant supply.
Watermelons and sweet melons such as honeydew and cantaloupe are dominantly sweet, extra hydrating and can tone down the heat instantly when they are enjoyed chilled.
To many people’s surprise, melons are actually low-calorie fruits containing much less sugar when compared to the less sweet dragon fruit or pomegranates of the same weight.
Melons are best purchased whole than the already peeled and cubed fruit cups. It’s not only saving you a few extra yuan, but also for food safety concerns.
There are two solutions for dealing with leftover melon when you purchase the fruit whole. One is to peel and cube the melon flesh and divide into smaller portions, chill them in the fridge and enjoy the chilled fruits later. If you wish to further extend the edible period, cubes of sweet melons and watermelons (use seedless varieties) can be frozen and then be made into smoothies, used as ice cubes to flavor water with a hint of natural sweetness, or eaten as healthy popsicle bites.
Nanhui 8424, the iconic local watermelon variety that’s only available in summer, hit the market on May 8. Originating in 1984, the Nanhui 8424 watermelon is known for its thin rind, crisp skin, juicy flesh and high-sugar content.
Nanhui in the Pudong New Area is situated in a place where the Yangtze River joins the East China Sea. The marine climate has four distinct seasons, and the saline-alkaline sandy soil is perfect for the cultivation and production of melons. As of now, Pudong produces more than 30,000 tons of Nanhui 8424 watermelons a year, accounting for a third of the city’s total watermelon production.
Authentic Nanhui 8424 watermelons are sold in uniform branded packaging with guided retail pricing. One watermelon (over 4.5 kilos) is 70 yuan (US$10.85), two (over 4 kilos each) are 130 yuan and four (3.25 kilos each) are 190 yuan.
The yellow fleshed watermelon known as texiaofeng is a crisp and sweet variety, and relatively smaller when compared to regular watermelons (between 1 to 3 kilos). They have less fiber texture and a thinner rind.
In addition to enjoying them as a sweet, juicy fruit or chilled juices/smoothies, watermelons can be used in savory dishes. For instance, by pairing cubes of watermelons with fresh heirloom tomatoes, burrata cheese (or feta, mozzarella) and arugula with a simple vinaigrette to make the perfect summer salad, or grilling steaks of watermelon to serve with rich meats for a refreshing balance. Roasted watermelon can also be served with rich fish such as black cod or lobsters for an elevated texture and flavor.
The saltiest watermelon recipe of all is perhaps the fermented watermelon sauce made from the flesh of the fruit and soybeans. The soybeans are boiled till they are 80 percent cooked, then spread on a bamboo mat and covered with gauze to ferment naturally in a warm environment and low light for a week to 10 days. Then the beans are dried in strong sunlight. The watermelon flesh is then broken into pieces, the soybeans are boiled in salted water with ginger and left to cool, and the two are combined to store sealed to complete fermentation.
The watermelon sauce can be added to stir-fries to boost flavor, or served with steamed buns.
The Korean-style watermelon soju cocktail used to be a trending sensation, made by mixing fresh watermelon juice with soju in a pitcher with ice cubes, then served in a watermelon bowl for a fancy presentation.
As the watermelon season leads to autumn, the fruit is also part of the many Mid-Autumn Festival treats, as the seeded watermelon signifies fertility. It’s carved into the shape of a lotus, an auspicious symbol, and presented as an offering at rituals.
The rind of the watermelon doesn’t go to waste in Chinese cuisine. After removing the dark green outer peel, the green “flesh” of the rind has a similar texture to zucchini and cucumber, and is widely used in stir-fries, salads and soups as a vegetable. Some people also use the rind to make fillings for dumplings or buns. The watermelon rind can also be pickled and served with congee for breakfast.
The sweet melons
Honeydew melons, cantaloupes, muskmelons … these extra sweet melons are actually the perfect fruit for people who hope to control their weight but have a sweet tooth. There are only 20 to 40 calories in 100 grams of edible melons, while onions have 40 calories (and more sugar).
Honeydew melons and cantaloupes are two of the most common sweet melon varieties, both with cobwebbing tan or green rind. The former has green-colored flesh, while the latter has orange-colored flesh.
The perfectly shaped honeydew melons or cantaloupes can be halved and the flesh removed to make melon bowls for a better presentation of fresh fruit, ice cream or even cakes.
Melon cubes can be used to sweeten tea, boosting the refreshing flavor at the same time.
The category of sweet melons also includes a wide range of varieties in addition to honeydew and cantaloupes. The smaller sweet melons known as tiangua (sweet melon) or xianggua (fragrant melon) are great single-serving fruits to replace dessert after meal.
Yangjiaomi, or ram’s horn honey melon, is a popular sweet melon variety in recent years. The horn-shaped melons have impeccable texture and taste. The entire fruit is edible, including the paper-thin green peel and bright orange seeds. Because yangjiaomi is so crunchy and juicy, it can be easily broken into two pieces by hand.
To pick the ideal yangjiaomi melon, the first step is to look at the pedicel to check the freshness, smell the melon for a light, fruity fragrance, and then lightly squeeze to find the slightly soft ones that are mature and sweet.
The sweet melons are also used in stir-fries for their crunchy, juicy texture and sweet flavor, usually paired with light-flavored proteins such as chicken breast and shrimp. The fruit also works wonderfully in refreshing salads with seafood such as smoked salmon and squid.