Side Servings

African watermelon salad

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45 minutes
25 minutes

This watermelon salad recipe is the creation of fine dining chef Kobus van der Merwe and features maketaan – the indigenous, wild version of watermelon.

Wine/Spirit Pairing
Dornier Cocoa Hills Rose 2011

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  • 1/2 large watermelon, cubed and seeded
  • Olive oil, to drizzle
  • a handful basil leaves
  • Rosemary flowers, to garnish
  • For the pickled maketaan rind
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 t white grape vinegar
  • 4 T sugar
  • 1 T mustard seeds
  • 1 T coriander seeds
  • a pinch sea salt
  • Maketaan rind, peeled and finely sliced
  • For the geranium granita
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 T sugar
  • a handful fresh rose-geranium leaves
  • For the watermelon and chilli granita
  • 1 cup watermelon juice
  • 1 chilli, finely chopped
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For the cucumber and buttermilk sorbet
  • 1 large cucumber, diced
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • Sea salt and white pepper, to taste

Arrange cubes of watermelon on plates and intersperse with slices of pickled maketaan. Drizzle with olive oil and scatter with basil leaves and rosemary flowers.

Scrape the granitas using a fork to form ice crystals and add spoonfuls to each plate, with a little sorbet.

To pickle the maketaan rind, boil all the ingredients until the rind is tender.

To make the geranium granita, dissolve the sugar in the water over a medium heat. Add the leaves and infuse for 1 hour. Strain and freeze.

To make the watermelon and chilli granita, mix the watermelon juice and chilli, then season to taste. Strain and freeze.

To make the sorbet, blend the cucumber and buttermilk until smooth, then strain and season. Churn in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions and freeze.

Cook's note:T’samma, karkoer, maketaan – the indigenous wild ancestors of the delicious watermelon. To me it makes perfect sense that nature’s own thirst-quencher originated in Africa. The true African watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), although not as sweet as its cultivated counterpart (Citrullus lanatus subsp. vulgaris), is as much a part of our food heritage as boerewors and umphokoqo.

It’s certainly not a store cupboard basic to be found at your local greengrocer, but farm stalls across the country still stock jars of sweet waatlemoenkonfyt or fleshy maketaan marmalade prepared according to family recipes passed down through the generations.

I’m sure, to most people, biting into the sweet, juicy flesh of a watermelon brings back vivid childhood memories of hot summers and sticky watermelon fights.

Although it’s ambrosia on its own, watermelon also pairs nicely with a variety of flavours ranging from savoury to sweet.

Try it in a late summer starter with sharp pickled onion, fragrant basil and cucumbermimicking borage, drizzled with grassy olive oil.

Watermelon also loves salty pairings – just think of the Mediterranean salads where it’s served with salty cheese or olives.

And, for a refreshing African salad, combine the sweet cultivated watermelon with its wild forefather, and top it with flavoured water ices and fresh herbs, just as I’ve done here.

Kobus van der Merwe

Recipe by: Kobus van der Merwe

Kobus is the chef of internationally acclaimed restaurant Wolfgat in Paternoster. He is known for foraging and exploring West Coast flavours.

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