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Seasonal Eats: Melon-tastic!

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A variety of melons at the Farmer's Market (Heather Parlato/LAist)
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With summer in full swing, it's time to get yourself some juicy, sun-sweetened melons while they're ripe and delicious. Muskmelons are part of the larger family of gourds and squash, including popular varieties such as cantaloupe and honeydew, and are said to have origins in Iran and Armenia, with some varieties evolving in India, Africa and Afghanistan.

The varieties range in skin and flesh color and textures, but all of them bear a sweet, deeply-floral scent, which is a mark of ripeness. Some have a smooth skin, while others have a net-like, reticulated rind, ranging in colors from yellow, green and brown. The flesh can be smooth or netted, and common varieties can be orange, green or white. The range of melons is too great to cover nutritionally, but cantaloupe, for example, has a glycemic load of 5, and is a good source of dietary fiber, Niacin, Vitamin B6 and Folate, and a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Potassium [for the record, this is the first food I've written about that is not a source of Manganese—I was beginning to wonder].

I was impressed with the amount of delicious antipasti I was able to find that included melon. Simple fresh fare, like melon carpaccio or the Italian favorite, prosciutto and melon are a great way to showcase the essence of melon flavor. Try a spin on tradition with prosciutto, melon, balsamic vinegar bruschetta or dip cantaloupe wedges into ricotta with pistachios. If you love ceviche, try out bay scallop ceviche with melon pearls. Want a chilled melon soup on a hot day? Look into mix and match melon soup or grill some up for roasted cantaloupe soup.

Summer melon makes a bright and fresh addition to salads. Serve them front and center in melon caprese with pesto or this green tomato and honeydew melon salad. Pair them with another summer favorite for zucchini melon salad. Go for the salty-sweet combo with a salad of melon, arugala and Serrano ham with smoked paprika dressing, or crunch it up with watercress, melon and almond salad.

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I was also surprised by the great condiment ideas that included melon, and equally impressed with the dishes they're dressing up. Melon relish? Have it as part of flank steak with melon relish. Melon chutney? There are a few ways to prepare it, with cucumber in grilled lime curry-rubbed hanger steak with fresh melon-cucumber chutney, or with apple in Virginia ham and melon-apple chutney on corn bread. Melon compote? I found this simple melon compote as well as this summer fruit mix of melon, nectarine, grape, and plum compote.

Some of the tempting desserts I want to try are this quick and easy honeydew melon in coconut milk and melon and blueberry coupe with white wine vanilla and mint. Freeze them up with cantaloupe sorbet with melon confetti compote or melon sorbet with black pepper. Finally, this melon with basil-lime granita looks outstanding!

Due to all their juice, melons lend themselves very well to delicious drinks and cocktails. For the non-alcoholic variety, try papaya-melon citrusade, this refreshing honeydew agua fresca, or a tasty frozen yogurt melon shake. Some melonated cocktails include honeydew mojitos with melon balls and mint or the aries. If you're blending up margaritas, throw some ripe melon into the mix!

I picked up some lesser known melons, arava, canary and sugar queen, each having a different flesh color. I decided to make a salad and a sangria, and i'll share both here.

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Melon and Lemon-Scented Feta Salad (Heather Parlato/LAist)
Melon and Lemon-Scented Feta Salad

1 medium-sized muskmelon of your choice, or smaller quantities of a selection of melons.

3 oz feta cheese

zest of 1 lemon

salt & pepper to taste

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Cut your chosen melon in half and scoop out the seeds (you can wash, dry and save for planting next year). Using a melon baller or a spoon, scoop out round pieces of melon and place in a bowl. Pour off any extra juice and reserve for another use (like adding it to club soda for a refreshing beverage).

Crumble the feta cheese into a bowl. Mince the lemon zest, add it to the bowl with some ground pepper and stir to mix well. Sprinkle the feta mixture over the bowl of melon balls, and toss to coat. season with salt and pepper if desired.

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Tricolor Melon White Sangria (Heather Parlato/LAist)
Tricolor Melon White Sangria

2-4 melons of varied flesh color (try cantaloupe or honeydew, or ask your farmers' market seller about the flesh color of the melons you're interested in)

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juice of 1 orange

1 lemon, sliced thin and quartered

1-2 bottles of white wine, preferrably pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc

Cut your chosen melon in half and scoop out the seeds (you can wash, dry and save for planting next year). Using a melon baller or a spoon, scoop out round pieces of melon and place in a pitcher. Reserve any juice and add it to the pitcher. Add the orange juice, and the sliced lemon, and white wine. Chill and serve.

But wait—when you're done drinking this sangria, don't throw out that wine-soaked fruit! Instead, throw it in the blender, purée, and pour into ice-pop molds for absolutely amazing sangria pops!