We eat watermelon a few times a year, and usually throw the rinds into the compost pile. I figure that’s what most people do. But a while back I ran across the idea of pickling the rinds, and I was immediately hooked on the concept; I love the idea of using a quick, simple pickling process to render something that’s usually inedible into a delicious, tangy, and crunchy treat.

It might sound a little weird at first glance, but watermelon pickles have been around for a while. While in Germany and Eastern Europe they tend to pickle the red flesh of watermelon, there are a few Scandinavian recipes that focus on pickling the rinds. In the US, there are records of people making pickles of watermelon rinds dating back to the Civil War; those original recipes call for soaking the rinds in a salt brine, then boiling with sugar, vinegar, cloves, and cinnamon until clear and soft, which turns it into something resembling a sweet relish. I went with a Scandinavian approach, but left a little of the flesh on the rind in order to add a little natural sweetness to the pickle and to aid in the fermentation process (bacteria likes sugar!).

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Takuan is a Japanese dish of fermented daikon radish. It is a form of Tsukemono (Japanese pickled veggies), which are served as side dishes or snacks, and are even part of the Japanese tea ceremony. Takuan in particular is often served at the end of meal to help digestion. The name “Takuan” is often attributed to Takuan Soho, a 17th century Zen Buddhist figure and the creative basis for the character Dakuan from the anime film Ninja Scroll. Korean cuisine has a similar pickled daikon radish dish, called Danmuji (단무지).

The daikon radish itself made its way to Japan from China about 2,000 years ago. Today, more land in Japan is used to grow daikon than any other vegetable. Takuan sold in many stores today is dyed yellow with food coloring; I was able to get a similar color by using a tiny bit of turmeric while pickling the radishes.

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NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.

Kabees El Lift is a popular Lebanese dish, often served as a lighter side to heavy meat dishes. The dish sports a vibrant pink color, which is made by adding beets to the turnips as they ferment. Fermented foods are great for adding natural probiotics into your diet. And, as Paul Jaminet points out, there is evidence of fermented foods like kimchi helping against autoimmune diseases and allergies. Plus they’re tasty.

I’m not sure how long this dish has been around, but I do know that turnips have been around for a long, long time; the Romans talked about them, and some of their original names were in Greek, which suggests they were eaten in Ancient Greece. Beets have been around just as long, although early forms were only the beet greens, and the bulbous root was developed/cultivated later.

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My wife bought the fermentation jar you see above for my birthday today, and I am pretty stoked. I’ve been wanting to make my own pickles, sauerkraut and kimchee for a while now so this is perfect. It’s under $10 and available here. I’m looking forward to finding the most natural and healthy pickling methods around, so if you have any suggestions please send them my way.

She also got me Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol 1. I think it’ll give me insight into some hearty, full-fat French culinary methods that I can use as a baseline in the future. I’ve found that my cooking instincts have eerily fallen in line with French culinary style, so this may really push me to refining my taste.