Watermelon was an essential part of my childhood summers. When we went to stay at my grandparents’ house in July and August, my aunt would keep a big watermelon in a net hanging in the well, where it would chill before we devoured it in wedges after dinner. What inevitably followed was a game of spit-the-seeds; my refined grandmother heartily disapproved, but my uncle joined right in. Back in town, our teacher would usually let us cool a watermelon in the deep end of the school pool — this was back in the day when refrigerators were a bit too small for the average watermelon.
Another summertime memory was suika-wari, or watermelon bashing. This game, usually played on the beach, worked like pin the tail on the donkey: the subject was blindfolded, armed with a stick, turned around several times and let loose. If they managed to find the watermelon and hit it, they won, and everyone enjoyed a treat.
The three short recipes here use the rind of the watermelon as well as the sweet red flesh. You could serve them all at once, or on different days.
Watermelon and lime granita
Prep: 10 mins., plus freezing time
• 500 grams watermelon, rind removed
• 50 grams granulated sugar
• Juice and zest of 1 lime
• Coarse salt
• Mint, for garnish
1. Cut the watermelon flesh into 1-centimeter cubes, carefully removing the seeds. Sprinkle with the sugar and the lime juice. Reserve the rind for another dish, such as the quick pickle below.
2. Put the cubed watermelon in a freezer-safe zip-close bag and freeze.
3. Once frozen, remove the watermelon and microwave on the defrost setting for three minutes. Put into a bowl, and break up the cubes using a fork. You can mash the watermelon up in a blender or with a hand mixer instead, but using a fork results in a crunchier texture.
4. Mix in the lime zest. Serve in bowls, and sprinkle a little coarse salt on top. Garnish with mint. For a boozier variation, serve with frozen vodka poured over the granita.
Quick watermelon rind pickles
Makes several side dishes; this is very popular in Kumamoto Prefecture
Prep: 5 mins.; resting time: 60+ mins.
• Watermelon rind, with some of the red part still on for color
• Green shiso leaves
1. First, remove the outer dark green part of the watermelon rind. Cut the paler inner rind into 1.5-centimeter cubes. Reserve the flesh for another dish, such as the granita.
2. Weigh the rind, and calculate 2% of its weight in salt. Mix the rind and salt in a zipped freezer bag and refrigerate for an hour or more. Drain, and serve with shredded green shiso leaves. This keeps for up to a week in the fridge.
Watermelon rind soup
Prep: 5 mins.; cook: 10 mins.
• 600 milliliters dashi, or 600 milliliters water with 2 teaspoons dashi granules
• 1 tablespoon soy sauce
• 2 tablespoons sake
• Approximately 1½ cups (300 milliliters) quick watermelon rind pickles
• 1 to 2 chopped green onions
• Shichimi tōgarashi (seven-flavor spice mix), to taste
1. Heat up the dashi, soy sauce and sake in a pan. Add the watermelon pickles and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until the watermelon is translucent. Salt to taste.
2. Sprinkle with the chopped green onion and shichimi tōgarashi. Serve hot or ice cold.
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