Watermelon has been a ritual of summer for me, ever since I was a child. I loved the drama of going to the corner kalingadwallah, first with parents, then later by myself, poking around to find the best looking one, tapping and thumping it, and finally asking the guy to slice off a chunk to see how red it is inside. Perfect at the art of cutting it, he would pierce the knife exactly so as to pull out the center, where the watermelon is the crispest, reddest, and tastiest. How could we complain? After proudly showing us how perfect it was he would snap the cut slice in place again, for us to carry it back home. Then lovingly it would be cut into even wedges, placed in a bowl and refrigerated for a few hours to chill. Something always happened in the fridge, the flavors concentrated and the watermelon got sweeter. It still does. And a watermelon still always brings back these memories for me.
I know many people slice a watermelon with the skin on, and then nibble at the red and throw off the rest. We rarely did that. The rind and peel was always removed and discarded off before eating. The only thing lacking was the tiny forks meant for eating fruit.
When I read about watermelon rind used in pickling and cooking in Chinese and Japanese cuisines, I was curious about where else it is used and found that watermelon rind pickles are quite common in America too, particularly in the South. Then, while browsing through 'Usha's Pickle Digest' last year I checked if she had anything on watermelon in her comprehensive book. I found not one, but four recipes for pickling watermelon rind. All of these involved cooking the rind, thereby making them 'instant' or ready to eat. Since I am quite stocked on pickles at the moment, it wasn't something I wanted to try, but the AFAM event provided just the opportunity.
I chose one of the four recipes for which I had all ingredients on hand and the flavors of which appealed to me. I used the recipe as a guideline for the main ingredients but tweaked it heavily otherwise. The result is pretty good, and getting better as it sits. It is supposed to stay good for a month but I don't think it will last that long.
I used the rind of half a large watermelon. After peeling off the green outer skin it was roughly 500 gm.
Watermelon Rind Pickle
500 gm watermelon rind (the white part between the red flesh and green skin)
1 large shallot (100 gm)
2 teaspoons urad dal
5-6 dried red chilies
pinch of methi (fenugreek) seeds
1 Tablespoon + 5 Tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons salt (or more)
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 Tablespoon thick tamarind extract
2 Tablespoons sugar
Chop the watermelon rind and shallots into fine pieces.
In a small skillet, roast the urad dal, chilies, and methi seeds until the seeds start to turn golden brown. Let it cool and powder it completely.
In a large pan, heat a tablespoon of oil, add the mustard seeds, and when they start to pop add the chopped shallot and watermelon rind, and cook it together. Add salt, turmeric, tamarind extract, spice powder, sugar and remaining oil, and cook it on low heat until the rind softens, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick to the pan. [It took me about 25 minutes to get it to this consistency]. Check for salt and add more if needed. Let it cool completely before filling into a jar.
Note: I didn't care much for the taste of shallot in this pickle. If I had to make it again, I would leave it out without altering anything else.