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Watermelon woes and a viral video

  • Despite being an essential summer fruit, buying a watermelon is like buying a lottery
  • Innovative ways of using the leftover rind offer solutions to massive wastage

Watermelon buttermilk; Photographs by Nandita Iyer

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We were on a bus from Petra to Wadi Rum in Jordan. The rocky landscape gave way to sandy fields dotted with dark green that turned out to be thousands of watermelons. Our driver and guide, Salah, informed us that Wadi Rum was known for its watermelons and insisted we taste this local fruit before driving on. Each one weighed well over 10kg. Salah cut open a watermelon and the 20 of us in the bus had our fill of the juiciest and most fragrant fruit.

In Japan, a graphic designer came up with the idea of square watermelons in the late 1970s. This is just the kind of quirky brilliance that we have come to associate with Japan. Watermelons are made to grow in a cubical box, so they take the shape of the box. If you are wondering why, it was done keeping in mind that cuboid watermelons are easier to stack, both in storage and in the fridge. They are also easier to slice as they don’t roll around.

Square watermelons have to be harvested well before they are ripened, leading to considerable flavour loss. In the end, the $80-100 (around 5,500-7,000) price tag isn’t worth it.

But nothing screams summer like the hillocks of striped watermelons neatly piled up on the footpaths of Indian cities. Many vendors will even cut open a wedge from the fruit, allowing you to inspect the level of ripeness before making a decision.

There are two things about a watermelon that used to stress me out.

Buying a watermelon is like buying a lottery. There is always a chance that it will have a super thick rind and anaemic flesh—a most unappetizing combination.

The second problem is the seeds. You cannot enjoy a single piece of the sweet flesh without biting into a seed or two. And deseeding a melon always seemed like an impossible task.

Given that I never let a problem get the better of me, I have found solutions to both these pesky situations.

To tackle the rind problem, I have started using it in my cooking, as in the watermelon rind kootu, a dish made with cooked dal, a vegetable and a spice paste. It has a delicate flavour and is just perfect for summer meals.

And the seeds? A few years ago, I came across an article on the Instructables website on how to deseed a watermelon. I usually take these DIY articles making tall claims with a fat pinch of salt. Since there was nothing to lose but 5 minutes of my time, I gave it a try anyway.

It worked like a miracle.

And just like that, I had acquired a life skill which allowed me to sit with a bowl full of juicy watermelon cubes without seedy interruptions.

The deseeding process makes it super convenient to use watermelon chunks in juices, salads and gazpachos. Once I started deseeding melons like a pro, I uploaded a video demonstrating the process on my YouTube channel (youtube.com/saffrontrail). The video gave me the first taste of going viral—it was featured in one of the top news websites in Serbia, raking in over 150,000 views in just two days!

Watermelon Buttermilk

Makes 2 glasses

A unique drink that combines two summer favourites—yogurt and watermelon—in one glass

Ingredients

4 cups watermelon chunks (deseeded)

1 cup yogurt

1-2 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp rock salt

1 tsp salt + 1/4 tsp red chilli powder

1/2 tsp oil

1 pinch mustard seeds

2-4 curry leaves

Method

In a blender jar, combine watermelon chunks, yogurt, lemon juice and rock salt. Blend until smooth.

Combine the salt and red chilli powder in a small dish and spread it out. Moisten the edge of two glasses with a wet finger and dip the edges in the salt-chilli mix until coated well.

Pour the prepared watermelon buttermilk into the glasses.

Heat oil in a small pan. Fry the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Once the seeds splutter, top the buttermilk with the tempering made of fried curry leaves and mustard seeds as a garnish.

Watermelon rind ‘kootu’. Photographs by Nandita Iyer
Watermelon rind ‘kootu’. Photographs by Nandita Iyer

Watermelon Rind Kootu

Serves 2

Never throw the rind away. This kootu makes for a refreshing summer lunch served with steamed rice or curd rice.

Ingredients

1 cup watermelon rind cubes

1 cup cooked toor dal

1/2 tsp salt

To grind to a paste

1/2 cup coconut, grated

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 dried red chillies

1/2 tsp black peppercorns

Tempering

2 tsp coconut oil

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

2 sprigs curry leaves

1 tsp urad dal

Method

Peel the watermelon rind and chop it into 1cm-sized cubes. Cook this with K tsp salt in 1 cup water, either in a pan or in the pressure cooker (2-3 minutes), until it’s cooked through but retains its shape.

In a small pan, fry the cumin seeds, red chillies and peppercorns until the chillies turn bright red. Grind this along with the grated coconut and K cup water in a mixer jar to a fine paste.

In a saucepan, mix the cooked watermelon rind cubes, toor dal, the prepared paste, remaining N tsp salt, and simmer.

Meanwhile, heat the oil for tempering in a small pan. Fry the mustard seeds, curry leaves and urad dal until the dal turns golden brown. Transfer it over the kootu and serve hot with rice.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer is the author of The Everyday Healthy Vegetarian.

@saffrontrail

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