Three Popular Summer Watermelon Recipes in Japan


Watermelon was an essential part of my childhood summers. When we went to my grandparents’ house in July and August, my aunt would keep a large watermelon in a net hanging in the well, where it would cool before we devoured it in quarters after dinner. What inevitably followed was a game of spitting the seeds; my refined grandmother warmly disapproved, but my uncle joined us. Back in town, our teacher would usually let us chill a watermelon in the bottom of the school pool – this was back when fridges were a bit too small for the average watermelon.

Another summer memory was suika-wari, or disparagement of watermelon. This game, usually played on the beach, worked like the pin of the tail on the donkey: the subject was blindfolded, armed with a stick, turned around several times and was unleashed. If they could find the watermelon and hit it, they would win and everyone had a blast.

The three short recipes here use the rind of the watermelon as well as the sweet red flesh. You can serve them all at the same time or on different days.

Watermelon and lime granita

For 4 people

Preparation: 10 min, plus freezing time

• 500 grams watermelon, rind removed

• 50 grams Granulated sugar

Juice and zest of 1 lime

Coarse salt

Mint, for garnish

1. Cut the watermelon flesh into cubes of 1 centimeter, carefully removing the seeds. Sprinkle with sugar and lime juice. Reserve the crust for another dish, like the quick pickle below.

2. Put the cubed watermelon in a zippered freezer bag and freeze.

3. Once frozen, remove the watermelon and microwave on defrost mode for three minutes. Put in a bowl and break the cubes with a fork. You can mash watermelon in a blender or with a hand blender, but using a fork results in a crispier texture.

4. Combine the lime zest. Serve in bowls and sprinkle a little coarse salt on top. Garnish with mint. For a more boozy variation, serve with iced vodka poured over the granita.

Quick Pickles with Watermelon Zest

Makes several side dishes; it is very popular in Kumamoto prefecture

Preparation: 5 min. ; rest time: 60+ min.

Watermelon rind, with part of the red part still lit for color

Salt

Green shiso sheets

1. First, remove the dark green outer part of the watermelon rind. Cut the lighter inner crust into 1.5 cm cubes. Reserve the flesh for another dish, such as granita.

2. Weigh the crust and calculate 2% of its weight in salt. Combine the bark and salt in a zipped freezer bag and refrigerate for an hour or more. Drain and serve with grated green shiso leaves. This will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Watermelon Zest Soup

For 4 people

Preparation: 5 min. ; cooking: 10 min.

• 600 milliliters dashi, or 600 milliliters of water with 2 teaspoons of dashi granules

• 1 tablespoon soya sauce

• 2 tablespoons Sake

About 1½ cup (300 milliliters) Quick Pickles with Watermelon Zest

Salt

1 to 2 green onions, chopped

Shichimi togarashi (seven flavor spice blend), to taste

1. Heat the dashi, soy sauce and sake in a pan. Add the watermelon pickles and bring to a boil. Simmer and cook, 10 to 15 minutes, until the watermelon is translucent. Salt to taste.

2. Sprinkle with chopped green onion and shichimi tōgarashi. Serve hot or iced.

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