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COOKING ON DEADLINE: Recipe for spicy watermelon salad with feta and basil

This June 30, 2014 photo shows fresh watermelon in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

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This June 30, 2014 photo shows fresh watermelon in Concord, N.H. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Watermelon is one of those foods you really don't need to overthink.

Slice it. Eat it. Spit out the occasional seed. Done.

Trouble is, the sweet, refreshing taste of watermelon is so appealing in summer, I tend to overbuy. And before long I find myself with two or even three massive melons rolling around (and sometimes off...) my counter. Or with a refrigerator full of chunked (or when I'm feeling more ambitious, balled) watermelon flesh waiting to be eaten.

And no matter how delicious it is, one really can eat only so much straight up watermelon. So I thought I'd share a few of my favourite alternative uses for watermelon. This isn't rocket science, but it is delicious.

— WATERMELON ICE CUBES

Cut the watermelon flesh into chunks small enough to easily fit into your blender. Working in batches if necessary, blend the watermelon until completely smooth. Pour the liquid into ice cube trays, then freeze. These ice cubes are awesome in lemonade, ginger ale, plain or flavoured seltzer water, even orange soda. And don't even get me started about gin and tonics and margaritas...

— WATERMELON LEMONADE

Speaking of lemonade, this watermelon version is pretty much the best. Follow the directions above for cutting and pureeing watermelon in the blender. Puree enough so that about half of your blender container is full of liquid watermelon. Now blend in honey or superfine sugar and lemon juice (start with about 1/4 cup of each, then adjust for your taste, making it slightly stronger than you'd like).

Now add enough ice to nearly fill the container, then blend until the ice is a slushie consistency. Drink, preferably through a straw. Because that's more summery.

— SPICY WATERMELON SALAD WITH FETA AND BASIL

Watermelon's sweet, crunchy flesh lends itself surprisingly well to salads, and I don't mean fruit salad. The trick is to pair it with foods sporting contrasting flavours and textures. Anything salty and savory is good. This simple recipe for spicy watermelon salad with feta cheese and basil is a great start, but improvise as you see fit.

Start to finish: 10 minutes

Servings: 4

4 cups cubed watermelon (bite-size chunks)

1/4 cup jarred banana pepper slices (or other pickled peppers)

1 red chili pepper

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

4 ounces feta cheese

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

Divide the watermelon between 4 serving plates, then top each with a quarter of the banana pepper slices.

Using a mandoline, carefully shave about a quarter of the chili pepper over each plate. Alternatively, you can finely mince the chili, then scatter the pieces over the salads.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, sesame oil and sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Drizzle the dressing over the salads, then top each with some of the feta, basil and pine nuts.

Nutrition information per serving: 210 calories; 140 calories from fat (67 per cent of total calories); 15 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 25 mg cholesterol; 17 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 15 g sugar; 6 g protein; 460 mg sodium.

___

J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at jhirsch@ap.org

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