Article: Choose local melons for healthy, summer soup

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Melons deliver a sweet treat, needed hydration and an array of nutrients!

It is Saturday morning, the temperature is already heating up and friends are coming over in a few hours!  You need something refreshing to serve, quick to prepare and doesn’t involve turning on your oven. How about a cool melon soup? You can keep it basic, or get “fancy” and make two different soups, to play off of the color and flavor contrast. These are so versatile that they can be served for an afternoon snack, dessert or enjoyed for breakfast or brunch!

Shop Smart
Melon soup sounds great, but wait a second… Farmer’s Market was two days ago! Where will you be able to find local melon?  Don’t worry, just head over to Curry Farm Country Store! I am so excited about this new addition to our community, as it has been a MAJOR find for me! I stop in frequently, since the store is open 7 days a week, easily accessible off Hwy 99 and Turner Rd, clean, has a friendly staff and extremely reasonable prices! The owners, and husband and wife team, Tony Ferreira and Julie Barsby, are very selective when choosing the fruits and veggies they offer, so expect a great selection of local produce grown with care. The day that I picked up fruit to make the recipe below, they had 7 different melons to choose from! The Cantadew and Ambrosia melons that I bought were delicious, and made superbly tasty soups!

When choosing the “best” melon from the bunch, find one that is heavy for its size and free from soft spots, cracks or major blemishes. If you knock on it, it shouldn’t sound hollow, but rather emit a low, dull tone. The area around the stem end, where it was attached to the vine, should “give” a little bit when you press with your thumbs. If the melon is at room temperature, the other end of the melon, the blossom end, should have a fragrant fruity smell when ripe. If you buy a melon that is slightly under ripe, you can keep it at room temperature until it ripens, then it is best to enjoy it or get it into the fridge.

Cook Smart
Be sure to thoroughly rinse off melons before cutting them, as any bacteria on the outside can be brought in contact with the edible flesh with the knife blade. However, don’t rinse melons until right before you plan to use them.  It can be very difficult to get them completely dry, especially if they have a webbed skin (cantaloupe and related varieties), and moisture can support mold growth. If you are only using half, tightly cover the cut end with plastic wrap and refrigerate promptly. Melons make a great breakfast (or dessert) with a big scoop of berries dropped into the middle, and a sprinkle of granola, ground flax or chia seeds. Melon can be added to smoothies, made into sorbet, blended and made into hydrating popsicles or even whipped up into a cool, refreshing soup (see recipe below).

Eat Smart
Melons are a wonderful way to help you stay hydrated, as they contain ~95% water! That also makes them low in calories, ranging from 50-75 kcalories per cup. Melons are well known for the vitamins they provide, especially Vit A, in the form of amazingly powerful carotenoids, Vit C, Vit K and several B vitamins, including B1, B3, B6, and folate, and an impressively diverse lineup of phytonutrients. These phytonutrients, including cucurbitacins, lutein and zeaxanthin, work together to target inflammation and oxidative stress in our bodies to reduce our risk of developing metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cancer. Melons are also a super source of potassium, great for our heart and vessels, magnesium and fiber! Whenever I have a ripe melon, I don’t delay in cutting it up. At least in my house, nearly everyone will pass up a whole melon (on the counter or in the fridge), but find bite-sized pieces irresistible! If you are worried about nutrients after lost once cut, don’t! Studies have shown that cut up chunks of melon retain a great majority of their phytonutrient content for many days, if kept covered and refrigerated.

Mix-and-Match Melon Soup Recipe
The possibilities for delicious combinations are virtually endless! It is perfect for making with kids, since tasting is key, ingredients are few, it can be plated with pizazz and is ready to be enjoyed right away or chilled for later. My kids like to freeze part of the batch in popsicle molds.  Combine the following ingredients in a food processor or powerful blender, and blend until silky smooth! Be sure to taste as you go!

  • Melon: Any variety will do! Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Crenshaw, Ambrosia, Galia, Cantadew, Watermelon…
  • Citrus: Lime, lemon, orange, even experiment with grapefruit! – use some (or all) of the fruits’ zest, and juice.
  • Extra sweetness (if needed): Tasting is critical. Some melons are so sweet that you’ll skip this step, however, if you want to add a little boost of sweetness, go for a whole food source. I use 1-2 soft, pitted Medjool dates because they blend perfectly and add extra fiber and health-promoting phytonutrients.
  • Flavor bursts: We all know how healthful leafy greens are, so throw in some fresh mint or even basil? Adding some jalapeño or a pinch of cayenne will create a sweet-spicy flavor profile!
  • Creamy touch: Adding a splash of soy milk or almond milk can bring a hint of creamy richness to the soup.
  • Garnish to your heart’s content! Mint sprigs, fresh or frozen berries, a dash of cayenne or cinnamon, or thin slices of citrus would make for a work of art! Have fun with 2 different melon soups served in the same bowl or cup!

Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified health fitness specialist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, does corporate wellness work, as well as professional speaking engagements and teaches hands-on cooking/nutrition classes.

Due to space limitations, a slightly edited version of this article was published in the Lodi News Sentinel on Wednesday, August 7, 2013.

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