One of the recipes I consider quintessentially American are watermelon rind pickles. It would have never occured to me to actually use watermelon rinds, until I read about it in US American books. Funny enough, many recipes date back to the Amish which, in turn, are kind of descendants of German/Swiss immigrants. I guess, the basic idea of using watermelon rinds (which are, after all, relatives to ye olde cucumber) was not to waste anything edible – which is one of the principles I very much like about the Momofuku cookbook.
In the cookbook, the authors mention that they have used the pickles in a simple plate of frisee lettuce and lardons, and I picked up the idea for my dinner above: a fennel salad with a lemon/olive oil dressing, some of the pickles, and crisp fried bacon. Delicious, and a very refreshing combo.
The recipe as printed in Momofuku
Pickled Watermelon Rind
makes about 1 quart
(I had half a watermelon the size of a bowling ball, which resulted in a 1 liter / quart ice cream container full of pickles.)
1/2 medium watermelon, the rind including 1/2 inch red flesh
1 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp plus 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 whole star anise
1 thumb-sized knob of fresh ginger, peeled
1. Cut the watermelon rind into 1-inch-thick slices. Carefully slice the skin off each slice, and cut the slices into 1-inch chunks.
2. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, star anise, and ginger in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the watermelon rind and boil for 1 minute, then carefully transfer to a quart container. Cool and then refrigerate.
These pickles are ready to eat in a couple of hours and will keep for about a week and a half-they start to lose flavor and get too soft after that.
Slicing and especially peeling the watermelon rind was quite a chore, to say the least. Finally I realized I had just the right tool at hand – a ceramic knife. (A ceramic peeler would have been useful, too, but the knife also made cutting the tough rind a snap).
I substituted coconut vinegar for the rice vinegar, and kind of winged it with the salt, which wasn’t the best idea after all – the pickles turned out way too salty, so better be careful with the salt.
I soaked the salty pickles in some vinegar and water / white wine and water, and eventually they were perfect.
Tasting right after they had cooled, the pickles were rather sweet’n'salty but lacking finesse; after steeping in the liquid for 8-10 hours, the ginger flavor intensified. Unfortunately, they will lose the bright green during the process, which turns into a yellow hue. After 24 hours I considered them perfect with just the right hint of star anise and a well-balanced, slightly gingery, refreshingly sour pickle taste.
A very surprising and tasty recipe – so next time you eat a watermelon or make watermelon margarita, don’t discard of the rind – make pickles instead.