Watermelon is more than a red wedge

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When it comes to creative ways to consume watermelon, we tend to shortchange ourselves.

Watermelon rind relish with crackers and cream cheese  Matthew Mead/Associated Press
Matthew Mead/Associated Press
Watermelon rind relish with crackers and cream cheese

There is the classic feta cheese, tomato and watermelon salad. There are various riffs on lemonade spiked with pureed watermelon. And, of course, there are innumerable variations on traditional fruit salad. We wanted something more unusual, more interesting.

That, oddly, took us back to tradition. In some parts of the country, pickled watermelon rind is a staple. In most of the U.S., the rind is just nature's way of adding a handle. So we started there. Then we moved on to the sweet, juicy flesh, transforming it into a pudding fit for a tart.

WATERMELON RIND RELISH

This recipe calls for watermelon rind with the thin outer dark-green skin removed. The easiest way to do that is to use a paring knife to cut away the red flesh, then use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin.

Start to finish: 1 hour

Makes: 3 cups

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon whole allspice

4 cups watermelon rind, green skin removed, cut into 1/4-inch chunks

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

2 cinnamon sticks

2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into chunks

On a 6-inch square of cheesecloth, combine the cloves and allspice. Tie the cloth into a bundle.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the watermelon rind, sugar, vinegar, salt, cinnamon sticks, ginger and spice bundle. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 hour, or until the watermelon rind is tender. Allow the watermelon to fully cool in the liquid.

Remove and discard the spice bundle, cinnamon sticks and ginger. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month.

WATERMELON PUDDING TART

Start to finish: 20 minutes, plus cooling

Serves: 8

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs

5 tablespoons butter, melted

2 1/2 cups watermelon flesh

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 eggs

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/4 cup sugar

Whipped cream

Heat the oven to 350. Coat a 9-inch removable bottom tart pan with baking spray.

In a medium bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs with the butter, stirring until well mixed. Press the mixture into the prepared tart pan. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden.

Meanwhile, in a blender puree the watermelon until completely smooth. You should have 2 cups of juice. Strain the juice through a fine mesh strainer into a small saucepan. Add the lemon juice. Over medium-high heat, bring the juice to a simmer.

In a medium, heat-safe bowl, whisk together the eggs, cornstarch and sugar until smooth. In a slow and steady stream, pour the hot juice into the egg mixture while continuously whisking. Pour the mixture back into the pan and continue to cook, whisking until thickened. Pour the watermelon pudding into the baked tart crust.

Press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding and refrigerate until cold. Serve with whipped cream.


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