Monday, 21 August 2017

Three Bizarre Watermelon Recipes

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The watermelon – this bright, contrasting symbol of summer, according to many residents of the Balkans, is a kind of trademark of their peninsular heat. An object of admiration, it carries many names – dinya, luybenitsa, karpuz. A true Balkan fruit. In actuality, it is neither one nor the other.

Cultivated as early as the Pre-Classical Era and most likely originating from the Kalahari Desert, as a plant it belongs to the same family as zucchini, pumpkins and cucumbers, and is, therefore, a vegetable. Or, at least according to some specialists, it is.

The Merchant's Wife at Tea. A painting by Boris Kustodiev, 1918. Moscow has its own kind of watermelons, which originate from the Volga river area – Melitopolski.

Its spread in time and space explains the unimaginable variations in which different people consume it. In addition to the classical way – eating the fresh, cooled, seed-free pieces, there is also jam from watermelon peels and watermelon with white cheese, which are popular in the Balkans, as well as marinated peels – a Greek specialty that has spread all the way to North America.

Having been cultivated as early as 2,500 years BC in Egypt and India, the watermelon was well-known in China in the tenth century and imported into Europe by the Moors in the thirteenth century. From there, it was brought over to the Caribbean by the Spanish conquistadors and probably spread to the United State by African slaves in the sixteenth century.

Watermelons, according to Bulgarian scientist Delcho Ivanov, entered daily life in the Balkans and Bulgaria during the establishment of Ottoman rule. Currently, their production in Bulgaria is concentrated around the towns of Luybimets, Harmanli, Haskovo, Plovdiv, Pazardzhik, Vidin, Svishtov, Silistra and Dobrich. It is curious that two of the three most popular kinds in the country originate from the US. One of them is Sugar Baby – a comparatively small (3-5 kilograms), dark green watermelon with thin peels. The other is Crimson Sweet, between 5 and 8 kilograms, with a light green peel, which is barely marked by dark green stripes and with a tender, carmine red interior and very good taste. The third kind – Marble 17, has more clearly defined stripes. It weighs between 4 and 5 kilograms and its inside is pinkish-red in colour, with a clear grain texture. Otherwise, Bulgarian agriculturists continue to experiment with local sorts with tender female names: Boryana, Bozhura, Rositsa. (The situation with the names of melons is even more interesting – some of the Bulgarian brands are especially poetic, ranging from Vidinski koravitsa (A Hard One from Vidin), Rahovets (originally the name of an ancient Bulgarian fortress, but more popular as a brand of a communist-era, mass-produced stove), Hybrid and Winner.

Three bizarre watermelon recipes

Watermelon with white cheese, Bulgarian-style

The combination of watermelon with white cheese – found disgusting by some and adored by others, is traditional for many regions in Bulgaria that grow watermelons. The preparation involves sprinkling some ripe pieces, not necessarily cold, with white cheese crumbs and then consuming them with a piece of white bread. Nothing more than that. Lately, however, the combination of watermelon and white cheese has been gaining popularity in summer salads. Or rather, these salads, which have long existed under a different form, are now becoming ever more diverse and popular. Here is one of them: Peel several ripe tomatoes; cut them in pieces and ad salt. To them, add watermelon sliced in small cubes, olive oil and a 100 grams of grated or crumbled white cheese.

Serbian Watermelon Jam

Unlike the more popular kind of jam made from peels, this one is made from the vegetable’s edible part. Cut the watermelon in even cubes, cook it until it boils, then immediately pour cold water over it and drain it. Then, pour water over two kilograms of sugar (per one kilogram of watermelon), so that it covers the sugar and heat until it boils. Place the watermelon inside and cook for 15 minutes. Add a pinch of vanilla and two lemons sliced in pieces. Cook it until the jam is thick enough to “make a drop” off the spoon.

Watermelon, yogurt and cucumber soup

This soup’s ingredients sound almost like those of tarator (in its Arabic version which substitutes dill with mint). Blend yogurt, pieces of watermelon with the seeds removed, two medium-sized cucumbers and a pinch of salt until you get a homogeneously creamy texture. Cool for a few hours and serve with fresh minced mint.




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