When I was 18, I arrived late at night in Lima, Peru, and was whisked off to the house of a family friend with whom I’d be staying. I watched Lima—a city that’s a sensory overload of dirty streets, tropical flowers, political propaganda, colonial palaces, street food vendors, and stray dogs—go by through the open window of the cab and smelled, above all of that, the briny Pacific. When we reached the house, my hostess sat me down at the kitchen table. I had never heard of ceviche before, but as a bowl was placed in front of me, that same ocean-salted tang wafted up. Whatever was in that bowl, it was scented like the sea.
The trip to Peru shaped me in a lot of ways—it was my first time traveling solo internationally, my first exposure to global health and development work, and in my head, I still equate ceviche with dusty adventure and fierce independence. I’ve loved it since. That first Peruvian ceviche was made with a delicately flaked white fish, but Gabi’s version with scallops and watermelon has been on my radar for awhile now. Worrying that the watermelon flavor might be too overpowering, she uses just the palest pink-white part of the watermelon, closest to the rind, in her ceviche. I was not trying to have a lot of leftover watermelon, though, and needed another way to mellow out the flavor. Grilled melon is sort of having a moment right now. Trendiness alone is usually not enough to make me want to cook something (actually, I’m so stubborn that trendiness usually makes me not want to cook something). But if Mark Bittman writes about it, I become powerless to do anything but run off to try it (My friend Jonathan, who is probably reading this, knows this is true and makes it his personal job to keep me updated on the NYT food & wine section–thanks, JGM!). When Bittman told me, “Grill a watermelon slice, and it dries out and sobers up, losing its sloppy sweetness, and it takes surprisingly well to savory accompaniments,” it was obvious where I was headed. And how could I not? Sober up your watermelon. This isn’t the seed-spitting-contest-watermelon of your kid-hood. This is a grown-person watermelon, fit to be included in your ceviche—which is fitting, because after that first night in Peru, it will always be a coming-of-age dish to me.
Grilled watermelon & scallop ceviche
You will need
- 1 pound of well-sourced scallops
Juice of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon red wine or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for brushing
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt or fine-grain sea salt, to taste
1 cubanelle pepper, thinly sliced
2 scallions, chopped finely
2 shallots, chopped finely
4 wedges of watermelon, about 1/2 inch thick (when chopped after grilling, it will be about 2 cups)
Parsley, chopped (for finishing)
- First, get your scallops “cooking”. Clean the scallops if necessary, removing the “foot”, rinsing, and patting dry.
Make the acidic vinaigrette in which the scallops will steep to “cook”. Combine lemon and lime juices, vinegar, sugar, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, cubanelle, scallions, and shallots, stirring well.
Depending on the size of your scallops—sea scallops or farmed scallops are larger than bay scallops—you may want to slice them. The thicker your scallops, the longer they will take to “cook”. I had large scallops that I sliced about 1/4 inch thick, and they were done in about 30 minutes.
Add your scallops to the citrus-vinegar mixture, and toss to coat. Place in refrigerator, stirring occasionally to immerse all the scallops in the acidic marinade.
Start the grill, whether charcoal or gas (although charcoal is best for a smokier flavor), and bring to high-medium heat. Brush both sides of the watermelon with olive oil and lay on grill. The watermelon will go from bright pink to a more salmon-y, orange-y color and get some nice grill marks. The texture will become meatier and drier.
When finished, remove the watermelon from the grill and allow to cool a bit. Remove any completely blackened parts, if necessary, and cut the fruit into bite-sized pieces.
Check to see if your scallops are opaque all the way through. If not, give them more time—when they are completely cooked, they will be opaque.
Right before serving, toss the watermelon pieces with the scallop mixture. Top with chopped parsley and serve.