Save Your Watermelon Rinds For Spicy-Sweet Kimchi

The next time you are cutting into a tasty, refreshing watermelon and wondering what to do with its rind, don't throw it away. There is a sweet and spicy way to use watermelon rinds that's not only delicious, but also creates zero-waste. Watermelon rind kimchi is about to become your new best friend.

In step with the southern delicacy of watermelon rind pickles, an ingredient with historical roots deep in African American soul food cooking, watermelon rind proves to be a perfect fit in another culture's centuries-old specialty — Korean kimchi. Kimchi is a fermented vegetable banchan (side dish) that is at the heart of Korean cuisine. There are many varieties of kimchi, but the most common version is made from napa cabbage, scallions, garlic, ginger, sugar, and sometimes daikon radish, apples, rice powder, and preserved shrimp. The main flavoring and spiciness of kimchi comes from gochugaru, Korean chili pepper flakes, which have an unmistakable, slightly sweet and smoky flavor, and just the right amount of heat.

You might be wondering if watermelon rind is safe to eat. In fact, the entire watermelon is edible, from the sweet flesh to the rind, and even the green skin. Not only is it edible, but it's also quite good for you, too. Watermelon is fat-free, high in fiber, and each serving contains 25% of the daily requirement of vitamin C, rind included. The seeds are also high in protein and despite what you may have heard as a kid, watermelon seeds are edible too!

A crunchy and sweet addition

Watermelon rind kimchi is a unique twist on traditional kimchi, which has a sharp, pungent flavor and aroma that is immediately recognizable. The fermentation process gives the vegetables a sour tang that is balanced by the gochugaru's sweetness and enlivened by its heat. Using watermelon rind instead of cabbage in kimchi is a brilliant move that adds a new layer of fruitiness and gives it a pleasing crunch. Watermelon and cucumber are in the same plant family known as cucurbits, so it's not too surprising to learn that watermelon rind tastes a bit like its cousin the cucumber, with a texture and snap to it that's more like crisp jicama.

Aside from eating it straight out of the jar, watermelon rind kimchi is a novel way to switch up classic Korean-style meals. Make it into kimchi fried rice, top it on a hot stone bibimbap rice bowl, or serve it along with Korean fried chicken.

Using it in Korean dishes is just the start, but don't stop there. Watermelon rind kimchi works well anywhere you might encounter other fermented or pickled foods. It's an excellent topping for hot dogs, burgers, even tacos. Add excitement to the next BBQ by trading out coleslaw with watermelon rind kimchi, where it's the ideal accompaniment for grilled meats, like Korean kalbi short ribs.

How to make watermelon rind kimchi

Swap watermelon rinds into your favorite kimchi recipes, or experiment with these basic guidelines. First, be sure to wash the outside of your watermelon before cutting into it. To remove the flesh, try Alton Brown's cool trick for removing watermelon rinds.

Next, peel off the tough outer green skin using a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, then chop the rind into cubes, matchsticks, or slice into thin strips. One half of an average watermelon yields about 2 cups of cut rind. Place the pieces into a bowl and mix with coarse sea salt to draw out moisture. Let this sit for at least an hour, then rinse and drain.

Mix in one tablespoon each of salt, minced ginger, minced garlic, sugar or honey, one bunch of chopped scallions, and a heaping tablespoon of gochugaru. Gochugaru is not super spicy, it's less hot than red chili flakes, so don't be afraid to add more for a bold punch of flavor. Stir well. 

Pack the mixture into a clean, lidded, glass jar, and allow it to sit out for two days before transferring to the refrigerator. Let it ferment in the refrigerator for another three days, at which point your watermelon rind kimchi will be ready to enjoy. It will keep in the fridge for one week, but we're willing to bet it will all get eaten up before then. Watermelon rind kimchi is so good ... you're going to want to make an extra batch.