When it comes to making new friends I often fall short. For starters, I typically don't engage in idle chitchat with strangers, allowing potential connections and friendships to pass me by. I have often wished that I could be a bit more like my mother. If you put that woman in a room for 5 minutes she'll know everyone's life story, and have made several new friends in that time. So I'm not sure what came over me the first time I walked into Gianna Balafouti's shop in Athens. I had spotted her shop, Pyliaki Gi, tucked into a corner across from my gym. I would often see a woman through the shop's large window, busy working in the kitchen. I was curious. What was she making?
One day, while leaving the gym, I decided to stop and check it out. The shop was filled with braided handmade cookies, golden jars of honey, brightly colored jars of homemade marmalades and spoon sweets (fruits and vegetables that are cooked in sweet syrup).
There were creative flavors, like olives stuffed with almonds and cooked in a sweet honey and cabernet syrup. Her products had won numerous awards, and once I tasted them I immediately understood why. I was in heaven! The next thing I knew Gianna and I were talking for hours. Now, every time I visit Greece I have to bring a slightly larger suitcase. I pack a little less, just so I have room to fill my suitcase with her cookies and spoon sweets. I would love to overhear the conversation when TSA screens my suitcase, and finds a small supermarket packed inside!
A few days ago I bought a watermelon. I began to throw away the rind, when I suddenly remembered Gianna's watermelon rind spoon sweets. It may sound odd, but watermelon rinds have a great texture when cooked. The mild flavor makes them ideal for flavoring with spices or using as a topping on something that already has a distinct flavor. It also puts to good use a part of the watermelon that often get tossed into the garbage. So with that idea in mind, I called Gianna and she sent me her recipe for watermelon rind spoon sweets. It might not be as good as a ticket to Athens, but it'll do in a pinch!
I adjusted the recipe, adding some jalapeno to mine (for a bit of kick at the end) and have been using it on top of frozen yogurt. Last night I even used it on some grilled chicken, brushing it on as a light glaze once the chicken was cooked. It's a versatile recipe perfect for summertime.
1 large watermelon
1 tablespoon citric acid
700 grams sugar
50 grams of honey
400 ml water
2-4 jalapenos thinly sliced
Juice of 2 lemons
Using a sharp knife, cut away the green skin and red flesh from the watermelon. You will now be left with the white pith section of the peel (see photo at the top of this article). Cut this into strips, about 1-2 inches in length. Use the point of the knife to make a tiny deep slit into the side of each piece.
Place the pieces of rind into a large bowl and cover with cold water. Stir in the citric acid (citric acid can be found in the jarring section of most supermarkets) and leave for 1 hour. Meanwhile rinse the jalapenos and cut into thin slices.
Drain the peel into a large colander and rinse under cold water. Return to the bowl, cover with fresh cold water and leave to soak for a further 30 minutes, then drain thoroughly.
Dissolve the sugar with the water in a large saucepan, then bring to a gentle simmer. Add the sliced jalapenos.
Next add the watermelon rind, honey, and lemon juice. Cover and slowly simmer for 1 hour.
Transfer to sterilized jars and store in a cool place.
To serve, spoon 2-3 pieces, and a drizzle of the syrup, on top of tart frozen yogurt.