July 7, 2002 - If you like to play with your food, here's a creative opportunity: carving a watermelon into a basket and filling it with a fresh tropical fruit salad.
Native to Africa, and abundant in our supermarkets this time of year, watermelon is known by its two-tone green or gray-green variegated rind and sweet juicy red flesh speckled with black seeds. Because whole melons can range in weight from 15 to 35 pounds, they often are cut into segments that are shrink-wrapped in plastic for sale.
You'll need a whole watermelon to make the basket. If there are none in the display case at your favorite supermarket, the produce manager can probably get one for you from the back of the store.
When choosing a watermelon, slap the side of the fruit. If it resounds with a hollow "thump," that's a good indicator that the melon is ripe. The rind should be dull, rather than shiny, and just barely yield to pressure. Never take home a melon with soft spots, gashes or other blemishes on the rind. Store the whole watermelon where it's cool and use it within a week for best taste.
You don't need any fancy implements to carve a watermelon -- although if you have pumpkin-carving tools from Halloween, these can be helpful, depending on the complexity of your design. For the pictured basket with a heart handle, a large sharp knife will do for the big cutting job, and a small paring knife is fine for the intricate heart shapes in the handle. A big metal spoon works well for hollowing out the melon. As you scoop out the flesh, a lot of juice will collect; remove strain and store this in the refrigerator to enjoy later as a refreshing drink.
When you've finished carving your watermelon basket, cut up the scooped-out flesh and other favorite fruits and place them all together in the basket. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Then enjoy a treat that tastes as good as it looks!
Tropical Fruit Salad in a Carved Watermelon Heart Basket
Watermelon: 1 medium-sized oblong watermelon
To carve the melon into a basket:
Cut a thin slice of the rind from the bottom to provide a stable base.
Draw the outlines for the Heart Basket: Make a horizontal line all the way around the middle of the melon. Centered on each side, draw two vertical lines about 6 inches apart across the top of the melon to resemble a handle. On each side, draw large heart so that the top of the two hearts connect so the handle of the basket remains intact. Then, within each heart, draw a smaller heart to be carved out. Click on the photograph here to enlarge it for a good look at how this will come out.
Use a knife or decorating tool to cut out the edges of the melon in a serrated design. Be careful not to cut through the handle. Then carefully remove the top quarter sections. Trim the flesh from the inside of the basket handle and carve out the outer and then inner heart shapes. Scoop out the watermelon flesh from the central cavity and cut it into chunks for use in the fruit salad. Remove settled watermelon juice, and then fill the cavity with your fruit salad.
Fresh Tropical Fruit Salad (substitute other fruits at will):
1 medium ripe papaya, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium ripe mangoes, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 ripe bananas, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup seedless red grapes, washed
5 kiwi, peeled and sliced
3 to 4 cups seeded watermelon, cut into bite-sized pieces
To make fruit salad: Combine all cut fruit.
Serves 6 to 9.
Nutrition note: Watermelon is a good source of vitamins A, B6 and C, plus the cancer-preventing phytochemical lycopene. A 2-cup serving has only 80 calories.
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