seedless watermelon -
no pip-spitting contests
fruit for serious adults
(a haiku for dVerse Poets Open Link Night, week 52)
The 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 too) who like to see how far they can spit seeds can rejoice, because seeded watermelons will always be around. Besides, the seedless ones are seedless only in name; they all have at least a few soft, white seeds that are sterile and don’t mature.
In some cultures, the seeds are the prize. Toasted watermelon seeds are popular in Việt Nam and China, 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 a watermelon, are used in cooking, especially for thickening soups. The egusi flesh is very bitter, and the melon is actually grown for the nutrient-rich seeds. Watermelons originated in Africa, though the ancestors of our modern-day fruit are said to have had very dry, bitter flesh, like the egusi. In the Middle East, watermelon seeds are toasted dry and then salted water is added to the pan. When the water has boiled off, the seeds, now coated in powdery salt, are ready to eat after a little cool-down.
Watermelon is a lot more versatile than most people think. Some people even deep-fry it. I haven’t tried it yet. I’d love to hear from someone who has. I love the combination of watermelon and lime. They have such 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 third 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 read the recipe and realised it 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 the original amounts of other ingredients called for, but then I like food with zing. The original recipe is below.
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. The recipe is easy and the combination of flavours produces an unexpected complexity from such simple ingredients. I usually garnish it with fresh coriander and serve it as a main with rice, but as Charles Perry mentions in his article, this dish could be served as an appetizer, a salad, a side dish or even a dessert.
Watermelon Curry (Matira)
makes 2 to 4 servings
1/4 of a large watermelon or 1 small round melon.
1/8 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground red pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garlic puree
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1. Cut up the watermelon, remove the rind and seeds and chop the flesh into 1-inch cubes. (You’ll need about 10 cups.)
2. Puree 1 cup of flesh to make juice. Add the paprika, ground red pepper, turmeric, coriander, garlic and salt to taste.
3. Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat and fry the cumin seeds 20 seconds. Immediately add the juice. Lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by one-third, about 5 minutes.
4. Add the lime juice and sugar to taste. Cook 1 minute. Add the watermelon pieces and cook over low heat 3 to 4 minutes, tossing to coat until heated through.
Each of 4 servings: 155 calories; 299 milligrams sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 30 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 2 grams fiber.
First two photos courtesy of Chef Shane Brierly and Lifestyle Resort Danang.