Watermelon Rind Salad, Three Ways

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There are few things more iconic than watermelon in the summertime. I bet if I scoured through the mental film reels of my childhood, I would see watermelon in the backdrop, there at every family gathering, a sweet thirst-quenching finale to thousands of summer meals. And yet, my most vivid image of watermelon doesn’t come from the recesses of my own life, but from something I read once in a Reader’s Digest. All I can remember is that the writer was a farmer. He spoke about spending his summer days working the earth under the sweltering heat. One of his greatest joys, he said, came after a solid day of toiling and feeling hot, dusty and parched. He’d head into the watermelon patch and choose a plump specimen, hidden under the cool shade of the leaves. Cracking the watermelon open, he’d sink his face into that crisp, juicy flesh and let the juices hydrate and revive him. Even now, on especially hot days, I pretend that I’m the farmer and hack into my watermelon slices with glee. Somehow, it always tastes even better that way.

For the last week or so, the husband and I have been steadily making our way through a juicy 23 pounder that we’ve been storing in our fridge. For these hot, muggy days, watermelon truly has been the perfect dessert. Everything else feels too heavy and cloying in this humidity, but a chunk of watermelon to quote Goldilocks, feels just right. Chinese medicine knows this too and praises the watermelon for its ability to clear the malaise of dampness and “summer-heat” that can get us all into a funk when it gets too hot.

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As I chopped into the ruby red chunks of our first watermelon of the season, it occurred to me that we often bypass a hidden treasure. In Chinese medicine, it’s the watermelon rind that people covet. Cool and non-toxic in its therapeutic nature, watermelon rind is praised for its ability to clear heat, relieve thirst and is even known for its ability to promote the flow of urine. If you think about the last one, it makes sense. After all, watermelon is full of juice, but the key idea here is that these fluids help carry the build-up of heat (that gets internalized in our bodies in hot temperatures) out of the body through urine. Clearing out this excess heat leaves us feeling calmer, less irritable and better able to enjoy these halcyon days.

Western medicine agrees that watermelon is a natural diuretic. The active ingredient, which is found especially abundant in the rind, is citrulline, a chemical that converts to the amino acid arginine which raises urea and urine in the blood. This is turn helps dilate blood vessels and improves blood circulation, making citrulline vital for the heart, circulatory system and immune system. For those with high blood pressure, watermelon rind is an ideal snack. There’s a study out there in which obese study participants took citrulline and arginine supplements derived from watermelon extracts. They showed significant improvements both in blood pressure and cardiac stress during rest and while undergoing a stress-inducing cold-water test.

And by relaxing blood vessels, citrulline is also known as a…ahem, libido-booster and it plays a Viagara-like role in treating mild erectile dysfunction, although you’d have to eat an abundance of watermelons (about 30) to get the same concentration as the pill.

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With our 23 pound watermelon, I had an abundance of rind to play with, so I thought I’d experiment with multiple ways of preparing it. One of my first realizations as I chomped on the rind slices, was that the lightly sweet, watery rind is reminiscent both in texture and flavor to cucumbers. It’s less surprising when you realize they’re related and are both a part of the Cucurbitaceae family. I imagine watermelon rind and cucumbers would pair perfectly in a salad, but that’s for another day.

If your watermelon has black seeds, these can dried, boiled in water and drunk as a tea to used as another way to promote urination and lower high blood pressure.

I started by dicing my rind into miniature cubes, but rind is a little bit fibrous in texture, so I discovered that these longer, thinner slices gave them a crisper texture easier and were easier to eat and enjoy. Slice them thin enough to allow the flavors you add to soak in.

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Start by cutting off the outer green shell. You just want the white part of the rind, although including a little bit of the red isn’t a problem.

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There are an abundance of ways to use watermelon rind. Pickled, jellied, preserved, fried, souped. Google the nets for inspiration. For mine, I decided that simple salads would do and I got busy raiding our cabinets for inspiration. This is what I came up with.

DSC_0061My first experiment takes an Asian bend with splashes of soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, a glug of sesame oil and a liberal sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. This one got a lot of hearty approvals from my taste testing guinea pigs. Only mildly sweet, watermelon rind is a fantastic canvas for both the savory and the sweet. You can add a little honey if you’d like, but I found the Marukan rice vinegar added just enough sweetness (and a satisfying tangy pucker) to make these a crisp appetizer to a meal.

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Toss them well then allow it to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.

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For my next version, I brought out our trusty bottle of sweet Thai chili sauce. Judging from the level of sauce in there, you can tell it’s well-loved. DSC_0125

A few glugs and a toss and that was it. This was crunchy, sweet and tangy with just a hint of heat. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice for an extra high note.

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This reminds me of Korean banchan, the little mini dishes of appetizers liberally served before a main meal. I’d order another.

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With the last version, I made use of some beautiful balsamic vinegar gifted by my cousins who were on a recent trip to Italy. Almost syrup-like, this delicious balsamic vinegar added a mellow base that was sweetened by a sprinkling of plump raisins and a garnish of mint.

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Delizioso!

DSC_0089Because watermelon rind is similar to cucumber, it’s mellow enough to make it amenable to all kinds of flavor profiles. Don’t be afraid to experiment! Add these salads to your next meal as a complement to the main dish. And for dessert, shall I suggest watermelon?

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Watermelon Rind Salad with Soy Sauce

Makes 2-4 servings

Ingredients
2 cups white watermelon rind, sliced into thin strips
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds (I used toasted seeds, but untoasted is also fine)

  1. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil.
  2. Place the watermelon rinds in a large bowl and pour the sauce mixture in. Toss well, making sure the sauce mixture is fully incorporated.
  3. Sprinkle on the sesame seeds.
  4. Chill the rinds in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours. Serve and enjoy.

Watermelon Rind Salad with Thai Sweet Chili Sauce

Makes 2-4 servings

Ingredients
2 cups white watermelon rind, sliced into thin strips
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
Fresh lemon, optional
Salt to taste

  1. In a large bowl, add the Thai sweet chili sauce to the watermelon rinds.
  2. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, if desired.
  3. Toss together.
  4. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours. Serve!

Watermelon Rind Salad with Balsamic Vinegar

Makes 2-4 servings

Ingredients
2 cups white watermelon rind, sliced into thin strips
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons distilled vinegar
1 teaspoon honey, optional
1/4 cup golden raisins
a few sprigs of mint

  1. In a small bowl, combine the balsamic vinegar, distilled vinegar, and honey, if using. 
  2. Place the watermelon rinds in a large bowl and pour in the vinegar mixture. Mix well, making sure the mixture is fully tossed together.
  3. Add the golden raisins and toss.
  4. Chill in the fridge for 1 to 2 hours. Before serving, garnish with a few mint leaves. If you like, add a few more glugs of balsamic vinegar over the salad as a garnish and serve. Enjoy!
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