Chef Jeanne Oleksiak’s inventive take on summer’s staple came by way of binge watching. An evening of unwinding turned into one of inspiration when a contestant on Netflix’s Crazy Delicious—a show on which the premise is to make food equal parts artful and delectable— barbecued a watermelon for the judges. Upon receiving yellow and orange watermelons from a farmer through GrowFood Carolina, she was set on trying the technique in the kitchen she’s called home for more than two years, HERD Provisions in Charleston. “The watermelon picks up the smoke and becomes more umami, so you get the feeling that you’re eating some sort of protein instead of a vegetable or fruit,” says Oleksiak. “Its texture is where it really shines because it doesn’t have those crisp little water pockets that explode in your mouth anymore, it’s just this dense, meaty feel.” Through trial and error, Oleksiak perfected her method and now plates the smoked watermelon in a way that is especially Southern.
Oleksiak experimented with several varieties, including yellow Sugar Dolls, red seedless, and orange varietals from Bush-N-Vine Farm in York, South Carolina. “The red ones do not hold the flavor as well,” she says. “The orange ones are fantastic, and they hold their shape better and their flavor when they pick up that smoke.”
Removing the rind from the watermelon allows the smoky flavor to penetrate the fruit, but Oleksiak doesn’t pass on the oft-discarded scraps. At HERD Provisions, you’ll find the rinds on the pickle plate or garnishing a drink from the bar. (See our recipe for pickled watermelon rind.) She’s also blended them into a gazpacho or minced them into a fruity play on tartare.
In the same way she switches the watermelon variety that she smokes Oleksiak also likes to experiment with the flavors gleaned from different woodchips. Apple woodchips, hickory, and pecan each bring a savory idea to new fruition.
8 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound okra, thinly sliced
2 red onions diced
10 scallions with whites included, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped garlic
2 habanero peppers, seeded and minced
1-inch knob of ginger
¼ cup fresh thyme leaves
1 bunch taro leaves, roughly chopped
1 bunch amaranth leaves, roughly chopped
2 bunches cilantro, stems included
½ cup pineapple juice
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper
1 red Kuri squash, seeded and halved
Salt and pepper
1 (12-ounce) can full-fat unsweetened coconut milk
6 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups Carolina Gold Rice
1 watermelon, rind removed
For the callaloo
For the red kuri squash puree
For the Carolina Gold rice
Make the smoked watermelon:
- If using an electric smoker, set to 140 degrees or the lowest possible setting. If using wood, keep the temperature between 140 and 160 degrees, assuring the temperature does not exceed 160. Remove the rind and any white flesh from1watermelon.For best results, place the rindless watermelon on a wire rack and refrigerate, uncovered, overnight to allow the flesh to dry. Smoke directly on the rack for 2 hours at about 140 degrees. (The longer it smokes and the higher temperature it reaches, the more intense the flavors will be and the softer the flesh will become.) Allow watermelon to rest about 5 minutes before slicing and. assembling with callaloo and red kuri squash puree over Carolina Gold rice.
- Make the callaloo: In a Dutch oven over high heat, heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Add sliced okra in batches, one even layer at a time, until well browned. Remove okra to paper towels to drain.
- Reduce heat to medium low and add 4 more tablespoons olive oil. Add red onions and sauté until tender, about 2 minutes. Add scallions, garlic, habanero peppers, ginger, and thyme leaves. Sauté, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes or until fragrant.
- Add taro leaves, amaranth leaves, and cilantro until wilted, about 10 minutes. Add pineapple juice and zest and juice of 1 lime. Cook about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
- Make the squash puree: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drizzle cut side of squash with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place cut-side down on a parchment-lined sheet tray and roast until tender, at least 20 minutes.
- Cool squash on tray, then scoop out tender meat and place in a blender with coconut milk. Blend, gradually reaching highest speed, until completely smooth, adding vegetable stock as needed to maintain consistency. The texture should be completely smooth and resemble applesauce. Season with more salt and pepper.
- Make the rice: Bring water and salt to a boil over high heat. Add rice and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain in a colander.
- Assembly: For each serving, create a bed of rice on a plate, add a helping of callaloo greens, and top with slices of smoked watermelon. Finish dish with a spoonful of squash puree.