seedless watermelon –
no pip-spitting contests
fruit for serious adults
(a haiku for dVerse Poets Open Link Night, week 52)
Chef Shane Brierly’s kitchen team at Lifestyle Resort Đà Nẵng knows what to do with a watermelon. This is commis chef Mr. Man with his first attempt at “Lion Melon Carving”. I’ll have to try that someday. I doubt my first try will produce anything recognizable. In the mean time, I’ll stick to preparing one of my favourite dishes, watermelon curry. More on that later, but if you’re impatient, scroll to the bottom for the recipe.
Watermelons are 92% water by weight, not including the rind or seeds. There are over 1,200 varieties. Although seedless watermelons seem to be taking over the market, seeded ones are necessary for pollination, so little boys (and bigger boys and girls) who like to see how far they can spit seeds can rejoice, because seeded watermelons will always be around. And the seedless ones are seedless only in name; they all have at least a few soft, white seeds, although they are sterile and don’t mature.
In some cultures, the seeds are the prize. In Việt Nam and China, toasted watermelon seeds are popular, especially during Lunar New Year festivities. The shells are dyed red, a lucky colour. The seeds come from varieties that have been bred for high seed production rather than for sweet flesh.
In West Africa, the seeds of egusi, a melon variety that looks like watermelon, are used in cooking, especially for thickening soups. Egusi flesh is very bitter, so this melon is grown for the nutrient-rich seeds. Watermelons originated in Africa, and the ancestors of our modern-day fruit are said to have had very dry, bitter flesh, rather like egusi. In the Middle East, watermelon seeds are toasted dry, the boiled in salted water. When the water has boiled off, the seeds, now coated in powdery salt, are ready to eat after a cool-down.
Watermelon is much more versatile than most people think. You can even deep-fry it. I haven’t tried that yet, but would love to hear from anyone who has.
Watermelon and lime make a tasty combination; they have an affinity for each other. In the cookbook One Spice, Two Spice: American Food, Indian Flavors, by Floyd Cardoz, there’s a watermelon lime salad recipe I can’t wait to try.
My favourite way of devouring this member of the cucurbit family, after eating it raw and drinking it in smoothies, is to cook it with lime juice, chilis and a few spices, for a juicy watermelon curry. It’s perfect with rice, and the colour contrast is beautiful.
I first came across this recipe in a local newspaper in 2003, in an article by Charles Perry that originally appeared in the L.A. Times. He found the recipe in The Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi. Watermelon curry. I was intrigued. When I noticed the recipe required just a few ingredients and less than 20 minutes from start to finish, I was convinced. I had to make it.
Since then, I’ve made it for guests and I’ve made it in small quantities to eat for a quick meal by myself. I’ve made it with Vietnamese curry powder when I didn’t have the other spices on hand, and it turned out just as delicious. I tend to use about 6 cups of watermelon (just over half the suggested quantity) while using close to the original amounts of other ingredients called for, but then I like food with zing. My version of the recipe is below, and Charles Perry’s 2003 article, including the original recipe, is still available online.
This curry comes from Rajasthan, where watermelons are called matira. Some of the fruit is pureed and boiled down to make a thin sauce, then cooked with spices before the watermelon chunks are added and simmered long enough to become hot. It’s easy to prepare and the combination of flavours produces an unexpected complexity from such simple ingredients. I like to garnish it with fresh coriander and serve it as a main with rice, but as Charles Perry says, this dish could be served as an appetizer, a salad, a side dish or even a dessert.
Watermelon Curry (Matira)
6 cups watermelon cubes (roughly one-inch cubes, rind removed)
1 1/2 tsp ground chilies
1/8 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
3/4 – 1 TB favourite curry powder (Vietnamese brands work well)
1 medium garlic clove, smashed and minced
1/4 tsp salt
1 TB oil
1/4 tsp cumin seeds
1 TB lime juice
2 tsp sugar
few TB roughly chopped fresh coriander
Puree 1 cup of watermelon cubes. Add the ground chilies, turmeric, and coriander, (or curry powder if using). Add garlic and salt. Taste and adjust.
Heat oil. When it shimmers, flash-fry the cumin seeds just until fragrant. Reduce heat and add pureed melon. Simmer briefly—about five minutes—to reduce slightly.
Add lime juice and sugar. Stir to combine, then add watermelon cubes. Turn them gently just until they are hot and evenly coated with sauce. Don’t overcook them unless you want mush.
Decorate curry with coriander leaves and serve with rice.
First two photos courtesy of Chef Shane Brierly and Lifestyle Resort Danang.