Resourceful use of discards


MASAK titik is a Peranakan dish that is peculiar to Penang island.

Although called watermelon skin soup, it actually uses the white watermelon rind without the green outer skin.

It attests to the ingenuity of the Peranakan culture in making use of resources that are usually discarded.

Ingredients for masak titik include the rind of a watermelon, all parts of the prawns and toasted belacan. — Photos: YAP CHEE HONG/The StarIngredients for masak titik include the rind of a watermelon, all parts of the prawns and toasted belacan. — Photos: YAP CHEE HONG/The Star

This recipe, taken from Nonya Flavours published by The Star in 2003, does not appear on the menus of Peranakan restaurants and is now seldom prepared even in Straits Chinese homes.

It is hard to ascertain how the name masak titik, sometimes spelled titek, came about.

Some Malay recipes would call for hard spices such as candlenut to be titik or ketuk, which means to pound.

Titik literally means to point or to drop, which suggests it could refer to titis, water droplets.

Cut the flesh out of the watermelon rind, making sure there is still about half a centimetre depth of red flesh attached, then cut into 3cm cubes.Cut the flesh out of the watermelon rind, making sure there is still about half a centimetre depth of red flesh attached, then cut into 3cm cubes.

This soup really opens up your appetite. The piquant spiciness of the cili padi and robust saltiness of belacan complement the cool watermelon rind so well that you would not want to waste a drop.

The Penang Peranakan are known for their frugalness and they extract every bit of flavour from each ingredient.

Frying the prawn heads and shells not only adds another layer of flavour, but also creates jewels of red oil that float on the soup.

The texture of the food is also very important to the Peranakans and they achieve this here by pounding the prawns with shallots and toasted belacan. Make sure you do not mash the prawns too finely.

When prawn stock has come to the boil, add in prawn flesh that has been pounded with shallots and belacan.When prawn stock has come to the boil, add in prawn flesh that has been pounded with shallots and belacan.

Texturally, another area of concern is to ensure that the watermelon rind is not cooked for too long or it will turn to mush.

It just needs to turn slightly translucent before it goes completely transparent, so simmer for only about 10 minutes.

In the event that watermelon rind is unavailable, masak titik recipes on the Internet have yielded variations with winter melon, old cucumber, green papaya and white radish, which you may use as a substitute.

Masak titik features watermelon rind as its main ingredient.Masak titik features watermelon rind as its main ingredient.

However, that will take away the novelty of cooking with watermelon rind.

You may also substitute prawns with dried shrimp, salted fish bones or anchovies.

And by all means, if you find five pods of cili padi too spicy, reduce the number used or leave them whole without cutting them open.

Masak titik (watermelon skin soup)

Ingredients

Rempah titik

30g shallots, cut into quarters

10g toasted belacan

100g prawn flesh

Prawn stock

1 tbsp cooking oil

200g prawn heads and shells

1 litre cold water

5 white peppercorns, crushed

300g watermelon rind

5 birdʼs eye chillies, slit lengthwise

¼ tsp salt to taste

Method

Separate the heads and shells from 300g of fresh prawns. Set aside prawn meat for rempah titik.

To make prawn stock, heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot to fry the prawn heads and shells until aromatic, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add water and bring to boil for 5 minutes before lowering the heat and simmer the stock for another 20 minutes. Strain the stock before using.

Peel off the outer green skin of the watermelon rind. Cut out the flesh, leaving about half to one centimetre of red flesh attached. Cut the white watermelon rind into cubes of about 3cm.

Pound the shallots, toasted belacan and prawn meat in a mortar until coarsely mashed.

Bring the strained prawn stock back to the boil, then add the rempah titik ingredients and peppercorns. Continue to simmer for 10 minutes until the soup is aromatic.

Add the watermelon rind and chillies and simmer for about 10 minutes until the rind turns slightly translucent.

Turn off the heat and serve hot with freshly ground white pepper.

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