Melon Mania: 17 Favorite Melon Recipes to Celebrate Summer
Here's how to choose a good melon and feast on watermelon, honeydew, and cantaloupe in drinks to desserts. First up: Sticky watermelon grilled chicken.
Article and featured recipes and photographs by Ashley Strickland Freeman
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It’s melon season, and if you’re like me, it’s tempting to come home with a cartload of watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe. Then you’re wondering what to do with your haul! Whether you’re itching to fire up the grill, make a salad, a dessert, or a refreshing drink, I’ve got a fabulous melon recipe to celebrate these summertime fruits. Not sure how to buy a melon at the grocery store or farmers’ market? I’ve got you covered there too with my tips for choosing a perfectly ripe, sweet melon. I’ll also let you in on the easiest ways to cut up a melon. Let’s get slicing!
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How to choose a good melon: 5 tips
So first things first. How the heck do you make sure that watermelon, cantaloupe, or honeydew you bring home is ripe and sweet instead of watery and bland? Here's how to pick a good melon.
1. Take a good look
For all melons, check them out before buying to make sure they are symmetrical and don’t have any spots or bruises. If a melon is symmetrical it means that all sides got the same amount of sun (and water) so it will be sweet and juicy
2. Give it a sniff
Watermelon doesn’t have much aroma, but for cantaloupe and honeydew, give the area where the vine was attached a little sniff — it should smell sweet. Some varieties of cantaloupe will smell musky, too.
3. Check the skin
For watermelon, look for the field patch — the spot where the watermelon sat in the field ripening in the sun. It should be lemon- or butter-yellow (that means the fruit will be sweet). If the patch is white, put it back. You’ll also want to look for a watermelon that has lots of brown webbing, which look like scuff marks on the green stripes. Lots of webbing means the melon had many pollinators so it’ll be super sweet. One more way to tell if watermelon is sweet — and this goes for honeydew as well — the rind should be dull. A shiny melon means it’s underripe.
Besides looking for a honeydew that’s dull in appearance, make sure it’s symmetrical in shape and has a pale yellow exterior. If the skin is green, that means it was picked too early and isn't ripe.
Finally, for cantaloupe, examine the color under the netting of the rind. It should be golden or orange in color, not green or white. Also, if you see fine ridges in the skin, that also means the melon is sweet.
4. Go for heft
All melons should feel heavy for their size. This means they are full of juice! If they’re light, put them back on the shelf.
5. Give it a thump
Give that honeydew, watermelon, or cantaloupe a tap. They should all sound hollow if they are ripe.
How to cut up a melon
Okay, so now you’ve picked the perfect melon. Now how do you cut it up? Though there are gadgets like the Melon Slicer that slices and removes the seeds and the Watermelon Windmill that creates chunks, I’m old-fashioned. A good ole sharp knife and a cutting board are all I need to prep melons.
First I cut the melon in half crosswise to create a flat surface. If I’m serving wedges, I don’t have to worry about peeling them, so I make sure the flat side is down and I cut the melon into easy-to-handle wedges.
If I want to cut chunks, first I cut the melon into manageable wedges and use the blade of the knife to cut along the rind, following the curve of the melon to remove the rind. Then I place the skinless wedges flat sides down on my cutting board and cut them into chunks.
Cool off with a Cantaloupe-Basil Spritzer
Now comes the fun part. Let’s use that sweet, ripe melon in some recipes you may not have tried before. First up is my customizable spritzer — or cocktail — that features a cantaloupe-basil simple syrup. After you steep fresh basil with water and sugar and let it cool, press on the basil leaves with a spatula to release all of that great basil flavor.
Then combine the syrup with pureed cantaloupe and lime juice. Voila! You’ve got cantaloupe-basil simple syrup that provides the base for this sweet, summery drink. For non-drinkers all you need to do is top it with sparkling water. For those wanting a more lively drink, add in your booze of choice (either gin, tequila, or vodka) and get the effervescent bubbles from a little Prosecco on top. This drink is sure to be a crowd-pleaser!
You’ve gotta try watermelon grilled chicken
Next up is my recipe for watermelon-glazed grilled chicken. Watermelon chicken? Yep! Watermelon naturally has a high sugar content so I decided to make a sticky-sweet glaze to mop onto chicken thighs. First I puree some watermelon and mix it with red pepper jelly (for a little heat), soy sauce, and lime juice. After the sauce has simmered and thickened a bit, it’s ready for basting the chicken on the grill.
The sauce helps caramelize the skin of the chicken and kisses it with a layer of fruity, gently spicy flavor. But that’s not all. I also serve the chicken with a second helping of watermelon in the form of a cucumber-melon salad. The diced watermelon and cucumber are crisp and refreshing and help balance the heat from jalapeño and cayenne. Serve the dish with steamed rice, and your meal is ready.
Serve a refreshing honeydew granita
Now it’s time for dessert, and what better way to end a meal than my Honeydew-Mint Granita, essentially a grown-up slushie? Like the cantaloupe and watermelon recipes, you’ll need to use a blender or food processor to puree the melon. Like the spritzer, this recipe also includes a simple syrup. After pouring the honeydew mixture into a metal pan, you’ll freeze it for about an hour. A thin layer of ice will form along the top of the mixture and you’ll scrape the whole thing with a fork to create large, fluffy crystals.
After a few more times of scraping during freezing, you’ll be left with a gorgeous, snowy green slushie to spoon into serving glasses and garnish with mint. It’s a great palate cleanser after a hearty meal, or a dessert to keep on hand in the freezer when you want to cool off from the summer heat.
14 more best melon recipes
But that’s not all folks. If you’re still wanting recipe ideas to use up that ginormous watermelon you snagged at the roadside produce stand or you got some cantaloupe or honeydew for buy-one, get-one-free at the store, scroll down and discover more delicious melon recipes I’ve gathered from the Yummly recipe box. What are some of your favorite ways to enjoy melon?
Enjoy all the flavors of a mojito but with a clear head the next day. This recipe calls for making watermelon juice and watermelon simple syrup similar to the recipes I’ve created, and the best thing about those is that they can be made ahead and kept in the fridge.
This not-too-sweet twist on a traditional margarita is sure to be a hit. It can also be easily doubled or tripled to serve a crowd.
This is the ultimate summer appetizer. Watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew balls are skewered with fresh mozzarella balls, basil leaves, and prosciutto and drizzled with a basil vinaigrette. If you don’t have a melon baller you can also cube the melon instead.
If you’re a fan of oysters, you should really bookmark this recipe. Mignonette is a traditional topping for oysters on the half-shell but this topping is so much better. You get tartness from the lemon juice, heat from a serrano chili, crunch from cucumber, and sweetness from honeydew and cantaloupe. It’s so good!
It doesn’t get more summer than this recipe. If you’re a fan of traditional gazpacho (a blend of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers), you’ll love the addition of sweet watermelon. It adds a subtle sweetness that is irresistible.
You’ve heard of the classic Italian combination of prosciutto with melon? Well, this recipe turns that duo on its head in a super creative way. Enjoy a soup and salad lunch with sweet and creamy cantaloupe soup paired with French baguette stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella.
With only 3 ingredients, this recipe couldn’t be easier. Serve it as an appetizer at your next dinner party and expect everyone to be impressed. Or, take it in a thermos for a summer picnic to cool off from the heat.
I’m a sucker for an ahi poke bowl — it’s often the first thing I pick up after landing in Hawaii where my mother-in-law lives. So naturally, I love this creative fish-free take on a traditional poke bowl. The diced watermelon mimics the look of diced tuna, and the cool, crunchy salad is perfect for lunch on a hot day.
Coming together in only 10 minutes, this refreshing salad is the perfect balance of sweet and tart combining the flavors of sweet watermelon and strawberries with tomatillos. And, if you chop it up finely, it serves as a great salsa, too.
Talk about a showy salad! The smoky charred flavor of grilled cantaloupe pairs with a double dose of blueberries, both whole and pureed in the fresh vinaigrette. Tender greens, buttery pecans, and creamy goat cheese cover all of the other craveable textures and flavors to create a most satisfying dish.
Wow, is this a gorgeous salad, and the best part is it’s super simple. I love the combination of crunchy pistachios, spicy red pepper flakes, and licoricey fennel with sweet honeydew. The salad definitely awakens the taste buds! Serve it with a piece of grilled fish, chicken, pork, or shrimp for a quick, light summer meal.
This bread salad could be a meal by itself. You’ve basically got the whole kitchen sink in there (in a good way) with crusty French bread, cantaloupe, cucumbers, salami, prosciutto, cherry tomatoes, red onion, mint, basil, and a zesty vinaigrette.
This recipe screams al fresco dining. Spice-rubbed salmon cooks on a cedar plank and gets topped with a sweet and herbaceous watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew relish. Serve with orzo and grilled asparagus and you’ve got a winning meal.
Who knew you could use cantaloupe in baking recipes? Not me! This recipe was a mind-blowing discovery for me and is reminiscent of carrot cake. Grated cantaloupe adds moisture to the loaf and a hint of sweetness too.
Dive into more summer recipes
There's no such thing as too many tomatoes — or ears of corn, melons, or big salads, for that matter. Read on for inspiration with all your favorite summer produce.