Melons don't get the respect they deserve. We tend to relegate them to fruit salads, and even there, they're usually the least popular item. (I know I'm not the only one who's picked around those sad sherbet-hued cubes to get at the precious strawberries hiding among them.) The problem is, when you experience melon only in precut, premade fruit salad form, you're eating it out of season as likely as not, when it's liable to be bland and a bit slimy. But now's a good time of year to find sweet, plump fresh melons, practically bursting with juice and flavor. Ripe cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon are all delicious snacks solo, but they're also suitable in a variety of cold dishes—not to mention drinks, due to their high water content. A jazzed-up version of the traditional dish of melon and ham; a refreshing salad of watermelon, lychee, and basil; an eye-opening breakfast smoothie with cooling yogurt and mint—it's time to bring melon out from the sidelines and give it a chance to come alive, with the help of these 12 recipes.
Sweet and Savory Dishes
Fig, Melon, and Spanish Ham Salad With Basil
Cantaloupe and prosciutto is a tried-and-true combo, so it's no stretch to pair the fruit with jamón serrano in this plain and simple four-ingredient salad. Plump black Mission figs and fresh basil leaves add extra sweet and herbal layers of flavor. To dress it, just drizzle on some olive oil (break out your best bottle here) and sprinkle with coarse sea salt for a lovely, quick dish that's a godsend on hot afternoons.
Cantaloupe Gazpacho With Crispy Prosciutto
Instead of tomato, this nontraditional take on gazpacho incorporates sweet ripe cantaloupe for a fruity note in this chilled no-cook soup, though cucumber and sweet onion keep it firmly on the savory side. That pairing of melon and ham is just so darn good, we return to it here, garnishing the soup with oven-crisped shards of prosciutto.
Watermelon, Feta, and Mint Salad
Being an avid cook, you've probably already encountered more recipes for watermelon, feta, and mint salad than seems strictly necessary. How can we improve on that popular, dependable, sweet-salty-juicy summer formula? By using the very best in melon and cheese (we provide tips for seeking out both), perking the mixture up with a little lemon zest, and crumbling the feta over the top instead of tossing it with the other ingredients, which allows for greater contrast in each bite.
Watermelon, Lychee, Feta, and Basil Salad With Spicy Lemongrass Vinaigrette
For a little variation on the watermelon-feta-mint theme, we replace the mint with basil—a natural substitute for mint in lots of dishes, though almost any fresh herbs would be delicious here—and add soft, aromatic lychee fruit. Lychees do tend to border on the syrupy, so we toss the mixture with a chili-spiked vinaigrette to keep the sweetness in check.
Fresh Cantaloupe and Honeydew Salad With Lemon and Thyme
If you're melons are particularly ripe, you don't need to do much to make them shine. In this salad, all we do is dress the cut cantaloupe and honeydew with a little salt, some fresh, herbal thyme, a small splash of elderflower or chrysanthemum liqueur, and a bit of acid, whether it's fresh squeeze lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.
Spicy Grilled Watermelon
In my opinion, a big hunk of plain, raw watermelon, ripe and sweet and dripping with juices, is one of the best cookout desserts you could dream up. But next time you're grilling, try this adventurous take on a few of your melon slices: Brushed with a sweet and piquant blend of honey, lime juice, and cayenne pepper, then thrown over the grates, they'll take on a spicy and intense flavor that challenges our perception of what watermelon should taste like. It might not be for everyone, but it sure is a conversation starter.
Watermelon sorbet is a light, refreshing treat, and a great way to use up extra fruit if you've got a big melon on your hands. Made with just watermelon, lemon juice, salt, and a little booze, it's a simple recipe, too. Bittersweet cocoa nibs not only add pleasant pops of roasty flavor throughout, but also look, cutely, like watermelon seeds.
Fruit smoothies are one of my favorite summer breakfasts—they're easy to blend up in a flash, and supply enough sugar to satisfy my sweet tooth without weighing me down. This mellow version features cantaloupe, tangy lime juice and yogurt, fresh mint—and no added liquid, since the melon provides plenty of juice. Add a little honey if you like, but the fruit may have all the sweetness you need.
Spicy Honeydew and Coconut Water Agua Fresca
Puréeing honeydew melon and straining it through cheesecloth yields a simple honeydew juice, a delightfully refreshing treat. On its own, though, it can be a tad sweet, so we like to mix it up, adding coconut water for dilution and a mild tropical flavor, and a simple syrup made spicy with chiles de árbol.
Spicy Melon Cocktail
For a more adult-themed melon cooler, we take inspiration from the Mexican street cart tradition of topping fresh fruit with lime juice and a dusting of chili powder. Start by infusing cantaloupe into gin—choose a juniper-forward one, to balance the fruit—then add vermouth, lime juice, a homemade cilantro simple syrup, and a pinch of cayenne pepper. The resulting summery combination of sweet fruit, hot chili, acidic lime, and herbal cilantro and gin will wake your taste buds right up.
Fresh Cantaloupe Margaritas
When many people think of "fruity cocktails," and fruity versions of margaritas in particular, they often envision something cloyingly sugary, with an off-puttingly bright color and slightly artificial flavor. But you can make a cocktail with fresh fruit that's grown-up and balanced, while still putting you in the mood for beach chairs and tiny drink umbrellas. This recipe starts like most other margarita recipes, with blanco tequila, Cointreau, and lime juice, but blends in cantaloupe for both flavor and sweetness. If the melon's ripe enough, you may not need any additional sugar.
Pimm's Melon Punch
Most people's experience with Pimm's No. 1 ends at the eponymous Cup—and that's a shame, because the gin-based liqueur can be used in all sorts of cocktails. Here, we pair it with delicate honeydew juice and a little tart lemon juice, plus a cardamom simple syrup to bring out the spice in Pimm's. A splash of ginger ale gives the drink some nice effervescence.