Thursday, July 14, 2011

RECIPE - Watermelon Compote (Doce de Melancia)

One of the strangest foods I remember from my childhodr - or at least it seemed strange to me in that era of food that ranged from bland to superbland - was pickled watermelon rinds. For some reason they were obligatory on our Christmas dinner table, served in a small dish, as were black olives, neither of which were seen on the other 364 days of the year. Tart but sweet, and slightly crunchy, spiced with cinnamon and cloves, one or two pieces invariably found their way onto my heaped-full plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and rutabagas, but I didn't really miss them much during the rest of the year.

You have to admit that making pickles out of the left-over rinds of watermelons, which are perilously close to being garbage, is very efficient use of the melon, making sure that nothing goes to waste. One large watermelon can yield sufficient amounts of rind to make a awful lot of pickles.

Brazilians love watermelon almost as much as North Americans do, and all those watermelons generate a lot of rind. The traditional Brazilian solution, which dates back to colonial days on sugar plantations, for this overabundance is to make a sweet dessert with the rinds rather than a sweet-and-sour pickle. Watermelon compote is a favorite home dessert. It's cheap to make, since the rind is a bit of a freebie when you buy watermelon. And it's easy. Give it a try the next time you have fresh watermelon - it's in season now in the Northern Hemisphere.
RECIPE - Watermelon Compote (Doce de Melancia)
6 portions

1 lb (500 gr) watermelon rinds, white part only, cut into 1 in (2 cm) cubes
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
2 whole cloves (optional)
Put the cubed watermelon in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 2 or 3 minutes, then drain into a sieve or colander. Return the watermelon to the pan, cover with water once more and repeat the process. Drain thoroughly and reserve.

Make the syrup: Combine the sugar and water in a large sauce pan, heat over high heat, stirring to make sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook until the syrup has reduced to about 3/4 of its original quantity and is thickened. Add the reserved cubes of watermelon and the optional spices, if using. Cook for 20 minutes, keeping the syrup at a slow boil. Remove from the heat.

Let cool completely, then refrigerate until ready to use. Serve chilled, plain or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.


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