Watermelons are called “west melons” (xigua) in China, because they were brought there from the West, specifically from ancient Egypt, through the Middle East, and finally to China’s vast hinterlands in the 4th or 5th centuries.
Then, very quickly, the west melon was Easternized: practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine found that it had special properties that could be used to treat a range of ailments. These remedies used not only the delicious, cold, red pulp that we’re all so familiar with, but also the white rind that’s usually thrown away with the skin.
In the sweltering heat of a summer day, the natural inclination is to go for ice cubes or popsicles—but traditional Chinese medicine sees things a little differently. Those can cool us temporarily, but they cannot eliminate the “heat qi” that accumulates in the body during summer. Only by eating food that has the “cold” property—traditional Chinese medicine says that foods have the therapeutic properties of either “hot” or “cold,” and that an imbalance inside the body can lead to sickness—will neutralize the heat. As well as being fundamentally “cold,” watermelons are sweet and delicious and carry minerals, salt, and vitamins. By cooling the body’s qi, they offer one of the best ways to counteract the heat of summer.
The medicinal wonders of watermelon can’t be unlocked by simply snacking on the pulp, though. To go one step further, first scoop out the pulp, then peel off the hard green skin: the white rind that’s left quenches thirst and relieves the harsh heat of summer.
Here are two Chinese recipes to help you enjoy watermelon this summer:
Mung Bean Watermelon Porridge
Ingredients: 120g rice, 100g mung beans, 150g red watermelon pieces.
Instructions: Soak mung beans for four hours in water; cut watermelon pulp into cubes; put rice and mung beans together in a pot, add water and boil. Once boiled, turn down the heat and continue to cook until the rice turns to congee; drop in the watermelon and wait until it reboils. Eat morning or night!
Lotus Seed Watermelon Porridge
Ingredients: 50g white watermelon rind, 50g polished round-grain rice, 20g lotus seeds, salt, crystal sugar, chopped green onion.
Instructions: Cut watermelon rind into small pieces, stir with salt and let sit. Remove plumules from lotus seeds and soak for two hours. Rinse polished round-grain rice and, with lotus seeds, add to a pot of water; boil at a high-temperature until about 70 percent cooked. Add rind and crystal sugar and cook at medium heat until the rice turns to congee. Add chopped onion and salt. Enjoy!
Congee is a simple and healthy recipe, perfect for clean eating. In ancient China it was known to have medicinal properties, being good for digestive balance. The dish can be prepared a number of ways using a wide assortment of ingredients, from sweet to savory.
Photography by Yi Xu
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