Lifestyles and tastes have changed in China over the years, but watermelon has retained its status as the most popular treat to beat the heat in summer.
Eating chilled watermelon is popular with all age groups, but the versatility of the fruit goes beyond such simple pleasures.
On Instagram, the latest trends include watermelon lotions and makeup, and even posing behind a slice of watermelon to create the illusion of wearing a dress made of the fruit.
Cooking with watermelon
Watermelon can be used as salad ingredient, added to gazpacho or even made into burgers. There are literally 100 ways to eat watermelon, as a recent “USA Today” report pointed out, with recipes to prove it.
In Chinese cuisine, one lesser-known variation is fermented watermelon sauce. It’s made from watermelon flesh and soybeans.
Fermented watermelon sauce
Summer is the best time to enjoy this unconventional sauce. The soy beans are boiled in a large pot until they are about 80 percent cooked. They are then spread on a bamboo mat and covered with gauze, allowing the beans to ferment naturally in a warm environment with low light for seven to 10 days. The beans are then dried in strong sunlight.
To complete the sauce, watermelon flesh is broken into pieces and ginger is sliced. The soybeans and ginger are boiled in salted water, then left to cool. The mixture is combined with watermelon and stored in a jar to complete fermentation.
A few spoonfuls of the fermented sauce can be stir-fried in hot oil with spices, green onion, ginger and optional meat and peanuts. It is often served with steamed buns in northern Chinese provinces.
Watermelon lends itself well to dining table sculptures that frequently adorn formal banquets.
Experienced chefs transform the melons into flowers, such as peonies and roses.
For home kitchens, the “watermelon shark” is a more practical way to delight guests. After cutting off a quarter of the melon and scooping out all the flesh, sharp “teeth” are carved from the rind, creating the effect of the fierce-looking bloody mouth.
The watermelon flesh is sliced and added to fruits such as blueberries and grapes to be stuffed into the “shark” mouth.
Watermelon, like mango and lychees, goes well with light dipping sauces, combining salty and sweet tastes.
Watermelon cake is another summer dessert that’s refreshing and fun to make. Layers of watermelon are alternated with layers of almond dacquoise, cream and strawberries. Watermelon can also be paired with sponge cake.
For a simple summertime appetizer, bite-size cubes of watermelon, feta cheese and basil or mint leaves are secured on a toothpick. The appetizer can be flavored with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Thick slices of watermelon can be served steak-style, too. They are seared in a pan with a little bit of oil until the edges are browned, and then served with drizzles of honey-balsamic sauce, topped with crumbled feta cheese and fresh mint.
Because of its refreshing sweetness, watermelon is often paired with the light-flavored fish such as black cod, shrimp, crab and lobster.
In the Western Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century–770 BC), watermelon was an essential food during the annual Mid-Autumn Festival because its many seeds symbolized fertility.
It’s hard to beat simple watermelon juice as a refreshing summer drink. If the juice is a bit too sweet, a touch of lemon juice will balance out the flavor.
Watermelon is a popular ingredient in the fruit-to-drink dispenser trend because of its juicy flesh and thick rind. You can simply purchase a watermelon tap kit containing a keg tap and a coring tool to turn the fruit into the centerpiece of a summer party. Just remember to use seedless melons.
Watermelon milk is a smooth, mild flavored drink made by simply blending chilled melon juice with cold milk. For a stronger drink, add cream or condensed milk. Adding Yakult, the sweet-and-sour probiotic dairy product, to watermelon juice also makes a refreshing summer beverage.
Watermelon mojito is a popular cocktail that blends watermelon with lime juice, mint leaves and rum. It’s sweet, refreshing and easily addictive.
Watermelon soju is a Korean cocktail perfect for summer. It combines fresh watermelon juice with soju in a pitcher. Stir, add ice cubes and serve in a watermelon bowl.
For a tipsier version of watermelon, inject vodka directly into a melon and let sit in the fridge for 24 hours so that the melon absorbs all the alcohol. The result can be served in slices or in keg style.
Watermelon juice, with a bit of lemon and mint, can also be used to make ice cubes. They make a refreshing addition to glasses of water, especially sparkling water.
In traditional Chinese medicine, watermelon rind tea is said to ease internal body heat. The rind is dried naturally, and then infused in hot water and sugar.
Though watermelon rind may seem inedible, it has long been used in cooking across China.
Its similar texture to zucchini and cucumber makes it an ideal ingredient in stir-fries, soups and even pickling.
To prepare a simple salad from the rind, scrape off the outer layer of dark skin and thinly slice the remaining rind into strips. Add salt and let it sit for 30 minutes to draw off excess moisture and create a crunchier texture. Rinse off the excess salt and squeeze the remaining water out. Season with a simple dressing of light soy sauce, lemon juice, sugar, chili oil and sesame seed oil.
watermelon rind salad
To make a quick egg drop soup, remove the dark outer skin, slice the remaining rind and bring to a boil. Then add chopped tomato chunks and cook for a minute or two.
Pour beaten eggs into the tomato-watermelon mixture and season with salt and sesame seed oil.