Compressed watermelon sounds intriguing. Less water, more melon. Plus it's cute. At restaurants it preens from platters: intense pink cubes supporting a bite of ham, dramatic pork belly and melon checkerboards.
I tried weighting and waiting. Then gave in and read up. Turns out you need a vacuum bag, a chamber vacuum sealer and 100 percent vacuum pressure. Explaining why restaurants were invented. Let them compress. I'll stick with the fresh mess.
I sliced watermelon down to tiles, tossed them with ginger and lime and chilled the salad in the good old fridge. Still, I'm not immune to trends and tried — just for fun — pairing the cold, sharp salad with hot, spicy-sweet pork. No pressure, and 100 percent tasty.
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Prep: 30 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes
2 pounds Japanese (or other small) eggplant, sliced into ½-inch-thick half-moons
¾ pound ground pork
Pepper sauce, see recipe
1 handful whole basil leaves
Watermelon salad, see recipe
1 Roast: Toss eggplant with just enough oil (2 to 3 tablespoons) to coat. Spread out on two rimmed baking sheets and slide into a 400-degree oven. Roast, turning once, until golden outside and tender inside, about 30 minutes.
2 Render: Meanwhile, set a medium cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add pork and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until pink vanishes, about 6 minutes. Scrape meat into a colander and drain away all liquid.
3 Season: Return meat to skillet, still over medium heat. Add 1 cup pepper sauce and cook, stirring, until glossy and deeply colored, about 8 minutes.
4 Toss: Scrape roasted eggplant into skillet. Stir in remaining sauce. Toss in basil.
5 Serve: For each serving, scoop 1 cup watermelon salad onto one side of a shallow bowl. Scoop one-quarter of the eggplant onto the other side. Enjoy the contrast of hot and cold, spicy and sweet.
Pepper sauce: Measure 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 teaspoons cornstarch into a 1-pint jar. Seal and shake vigorously. Measure in 5 tablespoons soy sauce, 1/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup dry sherry, 2 tablespoons garlic chili sauce (check the Asian foods aisle), 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger and 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil. Seal and shake.
Watermelon salad: Chop cold seedless watermelon (1-inch-square, 1/4-inch-thick tiles are a good look). Measure 4 cups. Stir together juice of 1 lime and 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger. Pour over watermelon. Chill. Drain before serving.
Provenance: Inspired by "Modern Asian Flavors" by Richard Wong.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun