ORIGINS: Armenian rechel (preserved fruit) has roots in the Arabic murabba, which was then popularized across Western and Central Asia by the Ottoman Empire.
Armenian Watermelon Rind Preserves
- 2 cups cubed watermelon rind 260 g; see Note 1
- 1/8 tsp fine salt or 1/4 tsp kosher salt 1 g
- 3/4 cups water 180 g
- 3/4 cups white vinegar or apple cider vinegar 180 g
- 1/2 cup orange juice 120 g; can substitute with water + 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cup sugar 200 g
- Add watermelon rind, salt, water, and vinegar to a small pot and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to low, cover, and simmer for an hour.
- Rinse rind thoroughly with cold water and drain. When cool enough to handle, give them a squeeze to press out excess water.
- Add orange juice and sugar to the saucepan and return to high heat. When the mixture comes to a boil, stir in the rind.
- Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture begins darkening to a golden colour, as if it's starting to turn into caramel (see Note 2). Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then ladle into a glass jar.
- At this point, you can either can it to preserve it for longer, or just store it in the fridge, where it will be good for a month.
- Make sure to peel and slice the watermelon rinds into no larger than 1-inch pieces. You can leave a little sliver of pink flesh on the rind if you’d like.
- Make sure you remove it from heat before the colour gets too dark. You don’t want the syrup to actually turn into full-on caramel because then it’ll solidify when cooled!
What Does It Taste Like?
These watermelon rind preserves were super tasty! The rind itself is slightly sour from the vinegar and orange juice, but the main flavour is sweet. Because of the long simmering time, the rind is a little bit chewy, but overall it’s still quite firm to bite into.
Because the rind itself is so neutral, it doesn’t have any watermelon flavour. Even though I left a little bit of flesh on the rind (mostly to give it a pretty colour), I couldn’t taste the watermelon at all. If anything, it has an almost citrusy flavour from the orange juice.
Tzmeroog rechel tastes pretty good anywhere you would usually use a fruit preserve:
- Spoon a few pieces of rind along with a drizzle of the sugary syrup onto a piece of bread, pancake, or waffle… or even French toast
- Mix a generous spoonful or two into fruit salad
- It makes for a delectable topping on a jar of overnight oats
- Spoon it straight out of the jar! (I’m guilty of doing this more than once… it’s good stuff okay?)
And what about the syrup? If you have finished all the watermelon pieces and still have some syrup left, you can use them to:
- Substitute for other liquid sweeteners (like maple syrup, agave, or pekmez) in baked goods, such as this vegan brookie pie
- Sweeten other jams or preserves; for example, add some to a batch of homemade passion fruit butter or rhubarb butter
Please note that the syrup has a slightly acidic profile, so keep that in mind when using it to sweeten things.
What is Rechel (Murabba)?
Rechel or murabba (մուրաբա) is a category of Armenian sweets which are made by canning various fruits in sweet-sour syrup. Basically the Armenian word for preserves.
Besides watermelon rind preserves (ձմերուկ, tzmeroog), other varieties include:
- Apricot (ծիրան, dzerani)
- Green walnut (կանաչ ընկույզը, kanach ynkuyz)
- Pumpkin (դդում, tutum)
- Rose petal (վարդ, vardi)
- Quince (սերկլիլ, serklil)
- I’ve even seen a recipe for eggplant rechel!
According to an Armenian woman in this article, some traditional recipes for murabba call for addition of lye. I think the purpose of this is to do something similar to adding pickling lime, which preserves the crispness of a canned product. However, lye is difficult to get a hold of these days and it can be dangerous if handled improperly, so I left it out. The beauty of using watermelon rinds for this recipe is how hard they are to overcook—even after an hour of simmering, they still had a bit of crunch to them! So unlike more delicate fruit, watermelon rind holds up to cooking really well. I loved the texture of this tzmeroog murabba, even without the addition of lye.
Murabba in Other Countries
Murabba is not only an Armenian food! In fact, the original word comes from the Arabic muraba (مربى), which means “jam.” Unlike the Western conception of jams, however, murabba almost always contains whole pieces of fruit. It’s a well-known product in many Eurasian countries, such as India, Azerbaijan, Iran, Georgia. It’s also similar to the Eastern European varenye (варенье), the Bulgarian slatko (сладко), and the Romanian dulceaţă.
However, different nations have different preferences in the kinds of fruits they prefer. Preparation methods also vary from country to country. For example, in India, mango and bael are popular, while in Georgia, you can expect to find peach murabba, and carrot murabba is common in Persian cuisine. This watermelon rind variety is cooked in a typical Armenian style. It’s not limited to Armenia, although it is one of the favourites in the country.
Nutrition, Cost, and Emissions Information
Each tbsp serving of watermelon rind preserves (including syrup) is 38 cal, costs $0.03, and releases 27 gCO2e of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.
Calculation for full recipe as written (24 servings):
Feel free to contact me for sources on the nutritional and carbon emissions information presented here. Note that I am not a nutritionist and guidelines on this page are provided for informational purposes only.