Every year we have a Fourth of July party, and every year someone brings a watermelon. Some years it rains, some years it's clear. The guest list changes, but the watermelon always shows up.

It's been a sort of guessing game in our house to wager on who's bringing the melon. With the chicken frying, the salads made and brownies piled high, one could say the watermelon has always been, well, unwelcome.

This year, looking at the sugar baby sitting on the counter, I decided to give it a second chance. The melon could be sliced and placed on the buffet as always, but there had to be more to do with it than that.

After all, watermelon's attributes go beyond a cooling, thirst-quenching slice of something on a hot summer night. Weight Watchers has recently been touting its nutritive benefits as a fat-free, low-calorie, vitamin- and mineral-packed food as well as its versatility as an ingredient. It was time for another look.

It has vitamins C, A, B6 and thiamine as well as lycopene -- as much as 40 percent more of this antioxidant. According to the Agricultural Research Service, scientists have found that lycopene in the diet correlates with a reduced incidence of certain types of cancer. And lycopene levels in fat tissue -- an indicator of lycopene consumption -- have been linked with a reduced risk of heart attacks.

Plus, one cup of watermelon contains a total of 48 fat-free calories.

Once I got to thinking, the possibilities unfolded:

* The fruit can be pureed for a refreshing drink, a summer soup or as the basis for a low-fat salad dressing.

* Grilled slices can serve as an edible base for poached fish. When diced, the fruit mixes well in chicken, seafood and fruit salads.

* Cooked down, watermelon can enrich glazes, barbecue sauces and be used to sweeten all manner of things such as iced tea.

* For dessert, slices can be layered with sorbet to create an alternative "ice cream" sandwich or with fruit for a cakeless trifle.

Watermelon, our unwelcome guest, might just turn out to be the life of the party.

Shrimp and Watermelon Salad

4 servings

Here, bites of watermelon taste great with shrimp that has a little heat. If you'd rather use a grill pan on the stove to cook the shrimp, skip the bamboo skewers. Adapted from "Delicious Salad Meals," by Dot Vartan (Dorothy Jean Publishing, 2005).

2 tablespoons Mexican seasoning (may substitute a mixture of cumin, dried onion, chili pepper and garlic powder)

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 dozen jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed

2 cups cubed, seeded watermelon

One 20-ounce can pineapple chunks, drained

1/4 cup diced green or yellow bell pepper

1 teaspoon finely chopped and seeded jalapeno pepper (optional)

1/2 cup peeled and diced seedless cucumber

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 cups torn romaine lettuce

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Have ready 8 bamboo skewers that have been thoroughly soaked in water.

On a large plate, combine the Mexican seasoning and cinnamon. Dredge the shrimp in the seasonings, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the watermelon, pineapple, bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, if desired, and cucumber. Cover and refrigerate.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, soy sauce, honey and olive oil until well combined; set aside.

When ready to cook the shrimp, prepare the grill. If using a gas grill, preheat the grill to medium-high. If using a charcoal grill, start the charcoal or wood briquettes. When the briquettes are ready, distribute the heated charcoal evenly under the cooking area for direct heat. Be sure to oil the grate with nonstick spray oil.

Thread the shrimp onto the soaked bamboo skewers and grill, turning once, for 5 to 6 minutes or until the shrimp are just opaque. Remove the shrimp from the skewers.

Divide the lettuce among individual plates and place the shrimp and watermelon mixture on the lettuce. Drizzle the dressing on top, and sprinkle with the chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 306 calories, 27 g protein, 39 g carbohydrates, 7 g fat, 172 mg cholesterol, 1 g saturated fat, 481 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Bonnie S. Benwick; e-mail questions to food@washpost.com