photograph by Johnny Autry

Half-moon slabs of watermelon, with chilled juice dripping down to our elbows, promise sweet relief in the heat of summer. But the succulent fruit doesn’t have to be relegated to picnics and seed-spitting contests. It’s also a versatile ingredient for the lighter fare we crave as the mercury rises.

Whether you toss in a few cubes to sweeten sweet recipes or to add a refreshing twist to dishes simmering with salt and spice, you can sprinkle watermelon touches in every course. Here are four recipes that take you from salad to dessert.

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Watermelon-Feta Salad
Yields: 4 to 6 servings. 

3 cups mixed baby greens, arugula, or mache
1 cup fresh whole basil leaves
4 green onions, thinly sliced
about 4 cups large-diced seedless watermelon flesh
juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

Toss greens, basil, onion, and watermelon together in a large bowl. Toss with lime juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Gently toss in crumbled feta cheese. Serve immediately.

Watermelon, Lime, and Mint Ice
Yields: 6 or more servings.

2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 cup fresh whole mint leaves, plus additional mint to garnish
about 3 pounds cubed watermelon flesh
juice of 6 limes, about 3/4 cup

Combine sugar, water, and mint leaves in a small saucepan set over medium-high heat. Cook until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and let sit for 1 hour at room temperature.

Working in batches, puree watermelon in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Strain and discard remaining solids. Stir strained juice together with lime juice in a 13 x 9 x 2-inch non-reactive pan.

Strain cooled mint syrup; discard mint leaves. Stir syrup into watermelon-lime mixture. Carefully transfer to freezer; let freeze overnight.

Remove frozen watermelon mixture from freezer, and let sit at room temperature for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Rake with a fork to break ice into a snow cone-like texture. Scoop into glasses, and serve with mint leaves as a garnish.

Grilled Shrimp with Watermelon Salad
Yields: 4 to 6 servings. 

For salsa:

about 2 cups small-diced seedless watermelon flesh
1/2 small red onion, peeled and chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1 lime

For shrimp:

about 2 pounds extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left intact
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder

Make the salsa. Combine diced watermelon, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice in a medium-size bowl. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.

Preheat outdoor grill or indoor grill pan to medium-hot. Toss shrimp with olive oil, coriander, cumin, and chili powder in a large bowl. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Carefully transfer shrimp individually to grill. Cook, turning once, until shrimp are pink and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes total.

Serve grilled shrimp with prepared salsa and lime wedges.

Watermelon Limeade
Yields: about 2 quarts. 

about 2 pounds cubed watermelon flesh
1 cup sugar
5 cups water, divided
juice of 12 limes, about 1 1/2 cups

Working in batches, puree watermelon in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Strain and discard remaining solids. Transfer strained juice to a large pitcher.

In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, cook sugar and 1 cup water until sugar is dissolved, about 3 to 5 minutes. Let cool. Add cooled syrup to watermelon juice. Stir in remaining 4 cups water and lime juice. Serve over ice.