In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I share the story of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier paleo lifestyle. In the...Read More
DaiLo Pork & Fried Watermelon
Fried watermelon. Once I read about it, I couldn’t let go of the idea of it.
I was hooked by this review in The Globe and Mail of DaiLo, a Chinese-French fusion restaurant in Toronto. The name DaiLo means big brother. It’s a term of endearment to show respect to an elder and implies a connection to future generations. It also implies bad ass.
From The Globe and Mail:
“The fried watermelon is mind-altering …. It’s red, sweet watermelon, but rolled in garlic and chili sambal and sealed into a crunchy, fried corn-starch shell. It’s blazing on the outside, cold in the middle, deliciously disorienting. You eat it with pickled watermelon rind and tufts of “pork floss,” the soy-braised and dried pulled pork.”
Dave and I were having a big night out with our friends Jen and Michel (hello, friends!) at DiaLo. Drinks, food, good conversation. We were delighted to be (1) in a thriving, thrumming city; (2) over the dual hurdles of Dave’s thesis and my cookbook manuscript; and (3) loosening the reins of paleo a little bit to indulge in exotic, intoxicating dishes. The menu at DiaLo is a playground of flavors: fried watermelon, fried rice with truffle shavings, green papaya salad with caramel coconut dressing (!), cocktails made with chile-and-lemongrass-infused coconut water.
We sat in a plush booth between delicate screens, and I felt my shoulders drop about two inches with a big sigh. We ate everything. We drank everything. We talked about everything. It was a perfectly restorative evening.
That night, lying in the hotel bed, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fried watermelon and what it was like to construct a perfect bite of that appetizer: watermelon that was crispy-outside, tender-inside , with slivers of fresh basil, a few threads of salty pork, and a bite of pickled watermelon rind. It was all things at once: hot, cool, crispy, chewy, spicy, sweet, and sour.
I was ensnared by the idea of trying to recreate a paleo-friendly version and fell asleep thinking about the possibilities. By the next morning, I had a plan.
To make it work, I had to flip the proportions: The restaurant dish is composed of large, crispy-fried chunks of watermelon with a whisper of pork. This paleo version is a pork-based stir-fry, studded with bite-sized cubes of “breaded” watermelon, plenty of basil, a touch of lime juice and rice vinegar to add the kick provided by pickled watermelon rind at DaiLo, and a sprinkle of crushed pork rinds to add the finishing touch of salt, fat, and crispiness.
For a simpler preparation, skip the “breading” and frying of the watermelon and simply add the cubes of melon during the last step, along with the scallions and basil.
DaiLo Pork & Fried Watermelon with Cauliflower Rice
Serves 2-3 |Cook 30 minutes | Whole30 compliant
1 large head cauliflower
1 tablespoon coconut oil or lard
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup arrowroot powder or tapioca starch
1 cup diced watermelon (1/2-inch dice)
1-2 tablespoons lard, coconut oil, or extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon coconut aminos
juice of 1/2 lime (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
6 scallions, dark green part only, thinly sliced
12 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
a handful pork rinds, crushed into coarse dust
Cook the cauliflower rice. Rice the cauliflower in a food processor. Warm the coconut oil in large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, 2 minutes. Add the cauliflower and salt; toss to combine. Cook the cauliflower for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, then cover the skillet and reduce the heat to low. Let it cook while you make the stir-fry.
Fry the watermelon. Place the arrowroot or tapioca in a flat bowl and add a generous pinch of salt; stir with a fork to combine. Pat the watermelon gently with paper towels to dry the surface, then toss the diced watermelon in the tapioca starch until it’s coated. (It will look like Turkish Delight!) Warm 1 tablespoon fat in a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, 2 minutes. When the fat is hot, add the watermelon cubes to the pan and toss them with two wooden spoons to coat them in the fat. It’s very important that the oil is hot and that the watermelon cubes don’t touch and aren’t crowded in the pan. Leave plenty of wiggle room around the cubes; you might need to do this in two batches. You want the cubes to fry, not steam. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, until the cubes are lightly browned. Transfer them to a plate.
Cook the pork. Place 2 teaspoons fat in the same pan and warm it over low heat. While the fat heats, peel and crush the garlic cloves and add them to the pan; stir-fry 30 seconds. Crumble the pork into the pan, increase the heat to medium high, and cook the meat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon to form very small crumbles. Season with the salt and pepper and cook the pork until is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
Bring it home. When the pork is cooked through, add the coconut aminos, lime juice, and rice vinegar; toss to combine and stir-fry until the liquid is mostly evaporated. Remove from the heat and add the scallions, basil, and watermelon; toss to combine.
To serve, divide the cauliflower rice and stir-fry among individual serving bowls, then sprinkle with crushed pork rinds.
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this sounds absolutely amazing. i can hardly wait to try it. Thanks for being so creative and sharing.
Let me know if you try it!
this sounds like a perfect cool summer evening dish!
Let me know if you try it!
Any thoughts if this will work with beef?
Yes, it should work great! Beef and watermelon stir-fry is pretty common. You might want to top it with crushed cashews instead of pork rinds.
Thanks Melissa! Will definitely try it.
The watermelon came out slimy and gelatinous. I doubled the recipe so that might have been the issue and I didn’t have a huge pan to fry it. We did not mix it in with the pork. We could not eat the watermelon by itself because of the texture, but we just mixed the cauli rice and pork together and added a few pieces of watermelon to the mix…it was delicious! Just wish the watermelon came out right:(
Doubling was probably your issue. Any water/steam at all turns the tapioca starch gelatinous—the watermelon needs to be patted dry, then coated, and then stir-fried in oil—no water! If you double it next time, try doing the watermelon in two batches. That should help! And as you learned, you can always add the watermelon as-is, without the coating.
I can’t wait until we start getting some yummy watermelon! So far the ones I’ve bought have not been good. But when they are, this is totally happening.
Hi Melissa – Made this tonight with the beef/cashew recommendation, because I had just made the Bora Bora Pork Meatballs on Saturday. It was delicious. A few comments on the watermelon. I dried the chunks on paper towels ahead of time and then used the tapioca starch b/c I didn’t have enough arrowroot powder. Maybe I dried it too much though b/c the tapioca starch didn’t really stick to it very well and ended up kind of crunchy. Will try the arrowroot power next time. Just starting back on Paleo after a long break and your recipes get me so excited about it!
Melissa! I made this the easiest possible way:no fried watermelon, just cool delicious chunks on top of the stir fried pork. My dear woman, you are a genius. Absolutely genius. In 20 minutes I had a meal to die for and every body wanted seconds. I have just started cooking again after a long hiatus–thank you, thank you for making it more than worth my while to stand in that hot kitchen next to that hot stove. I heart you.
Oh! This is so lovely. I’m very happy you liked this recipe. Welcome back to the kitchen! Wishing you many more happy cooking experiences.
My husband won’t eat pork. We cook so many beef dishes, so I’m looking for another alternative. Would this be good with chicken.
Sure! Ground chicken or beef will work just fine. Enjoy!
I’ve made a couple of your recipes and everything has been fabulous. Even my 2 year is gobbling down this food.
The fried watermelon in this recipe was an epic fail though. It was too gummy. Not sure what I did wrong.
Sorry you have trouble with this recipe! It’s REALLY important that there’s plenty of room around the cubes of watermelon and that the oil is pretty hot, otherwise the cubes steam instead of frying… and that leads to stickiness. Next time, you can just skip the frying part and toss in plain watermelon; still tastes great!
This is so good! I’ve tried many of your recipes and this may well be my favorite. I could just eat a bowl of fried watermelon, but pairing it with the awesomely flavored pork works as well 😉
(I used avocado oil to fry the watermelon.)
Awesome! I’m so happy you like it! Maybe you can get to Toronto some time and try the original, which would blow your mind 🙂 Fried watermelon! So amazing.
Five stars from us! Some of the watermelon did come out gooey, but it didn’t matter, it still tasted delicious. I need to work on my frying skills.
Frying something as juicy as watermelon without gluten-y starch and deep, hot oil is tricky. I’m glad you liked it anyway! (I secretly kind of like the gooey parts, but I’m weird like that.)
I just popped back on the website to print out this recipe again so I can make this dish again tonight. It is so over the top delicious! My 3 year old godson last time stole my bowl and kept eating (after he had eaten his own dinner) and kept saying “this is yummy in my tummy, Aunt Katie”. So this recipe is 3 year old approved!
It always feels like high praise when the little ones like a recipe. Glad it was a hit!