Iraqi Watermelon Rind Preserves; OR: Breakfast at Ada Kahvalti

I met Terry for the first time at Selin's cooking class in Kadiköy a month earlier. We exchanged numbers and stayed in touch during my nearly two months in Istanbul. Terry is beautiful and interesting and adventurous. She grew up in Istanbul; her family even had a summer house on one of the Princess Islands. When she was very young her parents decided to move the family to Mexico City on what I like to imagine was a whim. This sudden desire for exciting transformations must be a family thing, as I happen to find Terry during another major life transition, which I fully appreciate because I happen to be in the throws of one myself.

Terry is responsible for introducing me to the wonderful Turkish breakfast at Ada Kahvalti, on Büyükada, the largest of the Princes' Islands. (Büyük means big. Ada means island. When I put these things together I am very pleased with myself.) 

Four of the nine islands, interchangeably and collectively called the Princess, Princes', or Prences Islands, are the prime weekend vacation spots for the Istanbulu. These islands feel like remnants of another time, seemingly isolated and notably charming. There are no cars on the islands. People walk, bike, or take horse-drawn carriages called phaeton. Ada Kahvalti, a ten minute walk from the ferry, is in the front yard of a home, on a tree-lined street with other such homes. I walk up and down Akdemir Sokak (sokak means street) many times before I finally find the hanging sign hidden behind the bougainvillea.  

The Ada Kahvalti breakfast is not on the table all at once. It wouldn’t fit. The owner brings anything she chooses in rounds. Small dishes arranged beautifully on the table. One with green olives, another with black olives and a delicate lemon wedge. The deep-red muhammara, a roasted red pepper walnut dip and staple in many Middle Eastern countries, is slightly tangy and topped with a few crumbled walnuts. A plate of fresh cherry tomatoes, chopped with parsley arrives, with just a hint of olive oil and lemon, followed by sliced cucumbers with those wonderful little curly green peppers native to the region that I have yet to find in the states; clearly handpicked and locally-sourced.  There is a selection of cheeses from various parts of the country, including the subtly tangy çökelek, a crumbly whey cheese, here with red and green peppers, that makes me appreciate the limited time I have in this city. Quartered medium-boiled farm eggs topped with chopped parsley and what tastes like paprika. An assortment of fresh breads and pastries including sliced baguette, simit, and pogača. A requested addition of the quintessential menemen, eggs lightly scrambled atop a steamy tomato pepper stew, here with slices of sujuk, a spiced semi-cured meat. I prefer my eggs pouched, not scrambled, in the stew, the way my father taught me, and so am pleased when the deep yellow yolk is still clearly visible. Of course, there is my personal favorite Turkish breakfast must-have, the bal kaymak, a type of thick clotted cream sitting in a pool of honey. And, of course, the uniquely flavored and textured homemade preserves, of which I can’t seem to get enough: one is rose with lemon and bergamot; the other, watermelon rind. 

Yes, watermelon rind preserves. Terry and I struggle to place the flavor, and when we ask the owner she gives us an adorably sassy smile. 

At thirty, I’ve surely tasted so many peculiar flavors that it must be rare to be so startled, and by something that looks and feels like a basic marmalade. Yet, here I am, confronted with a taste unlike anything I’ve ever had before. This sparks one of those trite deeply personal inspirations: there is so much life out there

Back in the states, lovingly perusing my copy of Nawal Nasrallah’s Delights from the Garden of Eden, I come across an Iraqi version of the Watermelon Rind Preserves. Apparently this is a THING. And, upon questioning, my parents are fully aware, having failed to mention this to their children. "There's some in the fridge. It's your father's favorite." 

Iraqi Watermelon Rind Preserves

adapted from Nawal Nasrallah

ingredients:

2 lbs watermelon rind (1 large watermelon)
     (removed of the red flesh and firm green outer peel!)
     (cut rind into strips about 1” x 2”)
3 cups sugar
½ cup honey
juice and zest of half a lemon
4 cardamom pods, whole

directions:

1. Place strips of watermelon rind in an appropriately sized pot, cover with cold water.
2. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, about 30 minutes.  Drain and keep about 3 cups of liquid. Set aside.
3. In a heavy lidded pot: dissolve sugar in the watermelon rind liquid.
4. Add honey, lemon zest, and cardamom. Bring to a boil.
5. Add drained rind. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, about 30 minutes.
6. Set aside, cover, and let cool overnight. 
7. Next day: boil again over medium until thick, about 30 minutes.
8. Add lemon juice, a few minutes. It’s done when it keeps a thick and chunky texture.
9. Cool completely. Refrigerate. Keeps a long time.
10. Serve with geymar/kaymak/clotted cream!