Watermelon grounds a sculptural salad

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Watermelon rolls in at 92 percent water and, we presume, 8 percent melon. Split clean, it reveals flesh so juicy red that certain meat-abhorring sects refuse to eat it.

The watermelon enthusiast is also composed largely of water. Suggesting some deep connection between man and melon.

A connection celebrated all summer in cocktail, sorbet, salad and sculpture.

Indeed, the National Watermelon Promotion Board maintains a Web site devoted to the would-be watermelon sculptor that includes blueprints for a traditional fruit-basket watermelon display, turtle, bunny, cat, purse, convertible, smiley face, tiki mask, T. rex and outrigger canoe — suitable, the watermelon board says, for the luau.

Compared with other fruit, watermelon maintains the highest concentration of fun. Watermelon etiquette demands an outdoor setting, juice dribbling and seed spitting. Hardly true of, say, the fig.

We like to carve our watermelon into sturdy sticks and stack them into the festive tic-tac- toe board. Matched with the crunch of jicama, a splash of lime and a dash of hot pepper, it makes a refreshingly fun salad . One that can be dismantled neatly with fork and knife. Or messily, with abandon.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor.

leahreskin@aol.com

Tic-tac-toe salad

Takes: Not long

Serves: Many

Watermelon

Jicama

Watercress

Lime

Salt

Ground red pepper

Sugar

Walnut oil

1 Cut: Slice watermelon into sticks, 5 inches long and 1/2-inch square. Slice jicama into sticks, 5 inches long and 1/4-inch square.

2 Stack: Arrange four sticks of watermelon, tic-tac-toe style, on a flat white plate. Arrange four sticks of jicama on top. Continue building until you have a sturdy four-level structure. Corral tender strands of watercress in the center.

3 Dress: Spritz with lime juice. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar. Drizzle with walnut oil. Enjoy.
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