Pepitada, The Greek Way to Break the Fast
How many times have you thrown away the seeds when slicing a melon? Probably every time, unless you’re a fan of pepitada.
Pepitada is a beverage made not from the juicy flesh but from the toasted seeds of melons. A small glass of this sweet, milky drink, that is similar to Mexican horchata, is a traditional way to break the Yom Kippur fast in parts of the Eastern Mediterranean such as Greece and Rhodes.
It has a distinctly familiar yet also unfamiliar taste. With a hint of melon, the predominant flavor is a rich and toasted note reminiscent of a very light latte or a sesame confection. Tiny drops of oil from the nutrient-rich seeds dot the surface of the liquid. A little honey and just a few drops of rosewater round it out to create a refreshing and compelling beverage that will bring you back to life after hours without food or drink.
Preparing pepitada is a simple process: dry melon seeds, toast them, blend with water and sweeten and flavor to taste. Though, if you plan on making pepitada, start butchering melons now. You’ll need the seeds of at least three to make even a small amount, though a little goes a long way and you probably won’t want more than a few ounces per person. Any sweet melon, such as cantaloupe, will do. I used a combination of cantaloupe, honeydew, and a crisp-fleshed Asian melon called sun jewel available at my local farmers market in Boston.
In the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Gil Marks writes that the whiteness of the drink (though mine turned out caramel colored) suggests purity, which is one of the reasons it is enjoyed on a high holiday. Another is that it is delicious and restorative.
Adapted from Gil Marks
Though the recipe spans a few days, it will only take a few minutes.
Seeds of 3 melons
1 cup water
1 teaspoon honey
A few drops of rosewater
1) Scoop the seeds from three melons, wash in a strainer and spread on a paper towel or paper bag for 2 days to dry. (You can also go through your melons one at a time, storing the dried seeds until you have enough.)
2) Toast the seeds on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for about ten minutes or until golden brown. Remove the toasted seeds to another pan to cool and to arrest the cooking process.
3) Blend the seeds with the water in a blender or food processor and let sit in a refrigerator for 24 hours.
4) Strain the seeds through a fine cheesecloth, or a paint strainer bag. Press until all the liquid is extracted.
5) Mix well with the honey and rosewater. Taste for sweetness and adjust to your liking, adding more water if it is too strong. Serve room temperature or chilled in small glasses.