A pickle, to any Member of the Tribe, is a cucumber soaked in some sort of liquid. Cucumber variety, size, vinegar vs. brine, garlic, dill, spicy, and of course, length of time for said cucumber to be submerged in liquid, are all subject to furious debate. Sure there are the odd ducks [like me] that happily munch on pickled green tomatoes, peppers and an assortment of other pickled vegetables, but for all intents and purposes, a pickle is a cucumber.
That’s a little close-minded, don’t you think?
Last year, during the summer when my fruit platters were being cranked out in honor of Shabbat and various smachot, the number of watermelons that I went through was quite high. At some point, I said to myself that I should try this whole pickled watermelon rind thing that I’d been thinking about for a while now. I sat down and started researching recipes. I had found a few sweet pickle recipes for watermelon, but where were the savory ones? In my obtuseness, I had simply assumed that the recipe was going to be of the savory variety.
Common to both Asian and Southern American [plantations, not plantains] cuisines, watermelon rind pickles is easy to make, and a little addicting. The Western palette doesn’t have much crunchy-sweet in it. It falls into the category of a quick pickle, because it’s ready in a few hours, or overnight. The premise is that you boil the vegetable which softens the cell walls and speeds up the curing process when it’s soaking in the brine. Sushi ginger is a common quick pickle, and onions and radishes are also familiar.
The first part is potentially dangerous, so please be careful. Scrape the inside of the rind so that very little of the red part of the watermelon is on the rind. Then, very carefully, peel off the dark green part of the rind. Did I mention be careful?
Once the rind is peeled and cleaned, cut it up. I prefer thick matchsticks, but by all means try wedges, cubes, tournés, farm animals, whatever suits your fancy.
Boil the rind pieces in water for 15 minutes, until they start to soften.
Set the rinds aside. Prepare a pickling liquid in a ratio of 3:3:1 vinegar:sugar:water. Giving you exact measurements would be silly, because I don’t know how much watermelon rind you’re pickling. Yes, this is going to be one of those recipes. Prepare your spice mixture for the pickling liquid. I like to use… well, let’s see if you can pick out the seven things I chose to flavor the pickles with:
That’s bay leaf, star anise, black pepper, allspice, coriander seed, salt and cinnamon. I put the sugar, vinegar, water and spices into the pan, and cooked it for about 20 minutes. The sugar was dissolved and I could smell the spices cooking.
Then it was a simple matter of pouring the pickling liquid over the watermelon rinds. Make sure they sit, completely submerged overnight in the refrigerator.
These sweet pickles add a crunchy texture chopped up in salads. It would probably make an eye-opening salad dressing as well. After a few weeks they’ll start getting pretty soft, so you’ll want to either make smaller batches, introduce your friends to them, or bring them to meals for Shabbat.
For the record: vinegar, spicy, garlic, sour. There just ain’t no other way.