I have to put this recipe up, partly because I love them, and partly because Ben Barker (of Magnolia Grill in Durham, NC) loves them! I had given some to my friend Matt (Kelly, of Vin Rouge in Durham, NC), and he served some to Ben recently, and apparently Ben freaked out about them. Matt tells me that Ben claimed that these were the best he’d ever had , but it is possible that he was just trying to make me feel good….Either way, I dropped off a batch to Ben when I was in Durham last week – and I hope he enjoys them.
The first time I made these, I started out by reading a few recipes online, and then I just did my own thing with the ingredients, just using the process as a guide.
• 1 medium to large watermelon
• Filtered water
• Kosher salt
• 2 cups sugar
• 1 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar
• 3-5 whole cloves
• 5 or more whole black peppercorns
• 2 cinnamon sticks
• 2 whole star anise
• 2 inches fresh ginger, sliced thin
• 3-5 cloves garlic, peeled, thinly sliced
• 1 habanera or other spicy pepper, sliced into thin rings
Cut watermelon pulp from rind, leaving thin layer of pink on rind and peel the green outer skin off of the rind. Cut rind into large chunks. Combine a few tablespoons kosher salt with enough filtered water to cover the rind in large pot and bring to a boil. Add the rind pieces and boil until tender, about 5 minutes. Strain.
Combine remaining 2 teaspoons salt, sugar and next 7 ingredients in heavy large saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Place watermelon rinds into a glass dish or bowl. Pour vinegar mixture over watermelon rinds. Place plate atop rinds to keep rinds submerged in pickling liquid. Cover and refrigerate at least 8 hours or overnight. Scatter the hot pepper rings over the pickles. You may not want to use a whole pepper if you do not want them to be too spicy.
Strain liquid from rinds into saucepan; bring to boil. Pour over rinds. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Repeat straining and boiling of liquid and pour over rinds 1 more time. I find that the longer I let these sit in the fridge, the better and more mellow they become. Also, if they are too spicy, add some more sliced garlic – it will help absorb some of the heat.
I made a pickle relish out of these for meat/veggie dogs that was great. I also served them with a chicken liver pate at my mom’s 60th birthday – the pairing was great. My chef friend, Matt, served them to my partner and I with sautéed sweetbreads, also amazing. I can’t wait to try the relish in some kind of tuna salad type sandwich, or on a burger…mmmm….