Make it at Home – Pickled Watermelon Rind
What happens when you pair a traditional American side dish with an Asian influenced Chef?…🤫
These kinds of food-related rabbit holes always start innocently enough. At least for me.
🅰️ Turn on computer
🅱️ Open email
That’s how it happened this time, anyway.
I don’t know much about watermelon rind. What I do know is that it’s nature’s perfectly built-in holder (no utensils necessary) for one of the best treats a person of any age can enjoy on a hot summer day!
Hopefully, the memory of sticky, pink juice dripping down your forearm and dripping off your elbow isn’t too distant. If it is, we’ll need to talk. 🍉
Based on my previous watermelon-eating experiences, I could never have thought that those tough green and white shells had much of a purpose beyond the obvious. Looks like I was wrong…
Apparently, Pickled Watermelon Rinds are a thing! 🍉 🥒
Back in 1796, American Cookery was published. It wasn’t just any old cookbook. It has the distinction of being the first cookbook written by an American (makes sense; “America” itself was only 20 years old!). Its author was Amelia Simmons, and it contained (among other things) a recipe for Pickled Watermelon Rinds. 227 years is a little bit of time! How in the world could I have been so unaware for so long. ⁉️
Turns out there are a TON of versions of this classic side dish recipe. And they span the taste spectrum. Some are sweet, some vinegary. Some are crunchy, some more on the soft side. And, like other sides with a deep history (cole slaw, baked beans, and potato salad), what you were raised on is probably your stated preference.
We’re about to come at this whole pickled watermelon rind thing from a different angle. I have absolutely no idea what these “should” taste like, so it’s going to be tricky. I’m guessing they should taste pickled from the name. But who knows…
The email that started this watermelon rind adventure came from Tzeva (1255 N. Palm Ave. (941) 413-7425). It’s located in Downtown Sarasota’s Art Ovation Hotel. That’s where Chef Ken Lumpkin runs the culinary show.
⭐ We wrote a FIRST LOOK piece on Tzeva a while back. You can READ THAT HERE.
The menu at Tzeva is decidedly Mediterranean and Israeli-influenced. So, you would not immediately think pickled watermelon rinds. But that’s exactly the recipe that this particular email contained.
When I think of pickled things, of course, I think cucumber first. Then maybe red onion and even asparagus (great in a Bloody Mary!). But for me, not watermelon rind.
The brining liquid here contains soy sauce, mirin, star anise, ginger, and Korean apple vinegar (among other things). Not your typical pickle brine. Maybe it’s time that I broadened my pickling horizons just a touch…
Chef Lumpkin has Asian roots. Being raised in a traditional Japanese home definitely explains some of the ingredient choices here. This isn’t what Amelia Simmons envisioned when she wrote her recipe over 200 years ago. But a LOT of things have changed since then! 📅
Let’s take a look at how we make this Asian-influenced take on a very American dish.
📝 We have some rules when we attempt these Make it at Home recipes. One is that the ingredients should be readily available on a local basis. Well, this time, that rule may be bending ever so slightly…
There are a few items on our “shopping list” that you may not be able to find in a regular grocery store. Not to worry! We have a great specialty grocer here that can help. Oriental Food & Gifts (2212 Gulf Gate Dr.) comes to the rescue!
Above are Korean apple vinegar and Kaffir lime leaves. (The recipe calls for Makrut leaves. We subbed in Kaffir).
This is where we got a little creative and probably a little lazy. Those are whole star anise pods above. We couldn’t find the whole pods at the supermarket, so we used 1 ½ tsp of ground anise wrapped tightly in a cheesecloth.
We could have (and probably should have) gone to the Spice & Tea Exchange on St. Armands and picked this up. I’m almost 100% sure it’s stocked there.
There’s a little bit of prep to do. Not a ton. This is the bulk of it.
And ultimately into this…
Here’s the recipe for how to put everything together!
Chef Ken’s Pickled Watermelon Rinds
2 pounds of watermelon rinds
½ cup Korean apple vinegar
½ cup lime juice
½ cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup white wine vinegar
¾ cup sugar
½ cup mirin
2 tbsp salt
Large knuckle of ginger, sliced
1 Tbsp allspice
1 cinnamon stick
3 makrut lime leaf
3 star anise pods
4 cloves, whole
2 bay leaf
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
Peel the dark green skin off the watermelon rind, cut into ¼” slices. (I used a sharp vegetable peeler for this). Put all the ingredients but the rinds into a large pot. Bring the ingredients to a boil. When boiling, turn the heat down to a simmer and reduce the liquid by 20%.
Add rinds and cook until the rinds are translucent (about 45 minutes). When finished, remove rinds from brine. Cool on a plate. Strain the brine and cool it separately from the rinds. When both are cool, place rinds in a container and cover with the brine. Add water to cover if there isn’t enough brine.
** These pickles must be refrigerated **
Let’s take a look at how all of this turned out. Here’s my attempt at Chef Ken Lumpkin’s Pickled Watermelon Rinds!
I think mine look pretty OK! 🙌
As we usually do (with sometimes humiliating results), let’s see how the Pickled Watermelon Rinds at Tzeva’s look.
They use theirs as an ingredient in their small plate falafel dish. It’s a creative way to use these. It’s a component in a complete dish rather than a side.
Here are some tasting, cooking, and plating notes for you.
• It’s pretty clear from the first look that my rinds are darker than theirs. I hadn’t thought about the reason until just now as I’m writing this. I think the ground anise versus the whole star anise pods may have caused it. I almost want to make this again to verify.
• Even with the color difference, they both tasted pretty similar. Mine were a bit more intense. Definitely saltier and anise-ier (is that a word??). Again, see above.
• These made for a fantastic accent to the falafel. The softer rinds are an excellent complement to the crunchy falafel. Great choice there by Chef Ken.
• These Pickled Watermelon Rinds would also be a delicious addition to a pulled pork slider or taco. The acid would be a nice contrast to the pork.
How does this rate on our Make it at Home difficulty scale, you ask?
THE VERDICT: YES! YOU CAN MAKE THIS AT HOME. And you’ll probably find some creative uses for them on your own! If you’d like to taste how a culinary professional blends this unique taste together with other elements, the falafel small plate at Tzeva is a perfect example!
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