The Zen of Watermelon

July 23, 2009


Somewhere along the way, between the time I was a kid and now, I lost track of how perfectly satisfying watermelon can be. It used to be my favorite thing to eat as a child.

Twenty years ago, working at a grocery store, I bought a watermelon every week and ate some every day. I learned how to pick the best ones by asking produce clerks to choose them for me, then seeing which of the produce clerks picked the best ones consistently. There was one guy who knew his stuff. So I asked him to show me how.

How To Choose a Watermelon

The trick is in the creamy spot for the sweetness. It should have some color to it, a blush of yellow, not just plain white, and be pronounced. Otherwise the melon will be too watery or flavorless.

For perfectly crisp, not mushy flesh, the key is in the sound. Thumping isn’t right, even though that’s what most everyone will tell you to do. And you do NOT want to choose one with a hollow sound, either.

Hold the melon in one hand and slap-tap it in different places with the flattened fingers of the other hand. Listen for a melon with the highest-pitched ring to it. Not a thud. Not a low ring. A high ring that seems to travel through the fruit and resonate, like one of those meditation bell bowl thingies.

It will take some practice. It took me a couple summers, buying one every week, to get it right. But your hard work will pay off.

The Reward

Nothing can beat a slice of cold, crisp watermelon on a hot summer day. Juice drips down your chin, and you have to move to spit the seeds into the bushes. A good piece of watermelon makes you want it to never end. When you get to the rind, you want to keep eating that too and hope it’s as good as the pink part was.

I used to eat watermelon every day. These past fifteen years or so I have not indulged as often. I had forgotten how it hits the spot, quenching your thirst, invigorating you, forcing you to live in the moment.

Last week I bought a melon, which sat in the fridge, neglected, until today, when I opened it. It wasn’t perfection, but it was close. It was “seedless,” so there weren’t any substantial seeds to spit out, which is half the fun, I think. It was sweet, slurpy, mashy, messy, refreshing…a watermelon being true to itself. Ssslllp.

Go tap some melons and spit some seeds!

Carrot Cake (Not What You Think)

July 14, 2009
Me Against the Spitting Oil

Me Against the Spitting Oil

I spent several hours yesterday and today attempting to make Malaysian carrot cake. It’s not the carrot-and-spice-studded sweet treat that automatically comes to mind for many of us. I’m talking about a steamed cake made of rice flour and daikon, the strong-flavored turnip or radish of Asian cultures.

Grated daikon and rice flour are mixed together and steamed until solid, then left overnight to firm up. The next day (today), they are sliced and fried in a generous amount of oil in a pan in order to get a crispy outside, in perfect contrast to the chewy, pillowy inside.

Unfortunately, thanks to the moisture in the steamed cakes, the frying part was a dangerous mess. Oil spit and jumped all over the place, creating an oil slick on my kitchen floor. A piece of renegade carrot cake even landed on my lower eyelid. Yow! I have multiple freckle-sized burns covering my arms, and a few on my legs and feet, too.

When the ordeal was over, I ended up with three mounds of mushy, tasty goodness that isn’t exactly what I ate in Malaysia. Mine were a lot blacker on the outside–next time I will not attempt to hang my laundry and cook at the same time.

However, with the addition of a soy-hoisin-chile sauce, I could taste the potential. I just have a couple kinks to work out…

Vegan Papaya Curry

July 2, 2009
Papaya Curry

Papaya Curry

While surfing the net for unusual recipes, I came across this recipe for Stir-Fried Green Papaya from an Indian woman named Barathy. Her recipe comes from Kerala in South India, where green papaya as a vegetable is not very commonly used.

I bought green papayas, but by the time I went to make this dish, they were starting to ripen (oh, those tropical fruits!) The result was a complex-tasting, but easy to make curry that included sweetness from the papaya, plus gorgeous color.

Although I labeled this as a side dish, I ate it as a main dish, coupled with some sauteed spinach-like green and Nasi Kunyit, Turmeric Rice, a Malaysian dish I am working on.

I love mistakes like this.