May 9, 2015

Oh My...‘OTAI! The Summertime Polynesian Watermelon Drink

It's almost the beginning of summer, and it's already watermelon and mango season here on the Hawaiian island of Moloka'i. What better way to celebrate summer than a refreshing drink called ‘Otai, from the southernmost group of islands of central Polynesia called Tonga. The Kingdom of Tonga is a Polynesian sovereign state consisting of 52 inhabited islands with about 103,000 citizens.

Tongans came up with this cold slushy summer drink because it's very hot their, just like in Hawaii. They grow a lot of watermelons, mango, pineapple, banana, and coconut, so this drink blends one, if not all of these fruits, depending on who's making it. The end result is incredibly tropical, and the perfect summer drink.

About 50 years ago, when commercial farming was more of a way of life here, Moloka'i was considered to be the watermelon capitol of Hawaii. Watermelons were grown in large quantities and sold to other islands. Today farmers grow what is considered to be the sweetest (12% sugar content), reddest, 20 lb. watermelons in Hawaii, a variety known as "crimson sweet". Fortunately their are a few small growers here that sell this luscious red fruit to the public. 

I decided to share my recipe with my neighbors here on Moloka'i, and with whoever wants to celebrate summer with us. So instead of saying cheers in Hawaiian, "Å’kålè ma’luna", or "Kanpai" in Japanese... say ‘Otai! in Tonganese.

The trick with ‘otai is removing the seeds and mashing the watermelon without completely juicing it: the fruit needs to have a bit of structure left to give the drink body, kind of like a tropical slush. Check out this website for step-by-step photos on how to make Watermelon 'Otai. Naturally you can adjust this recipe to your own taste.

sweet red watermelon (about 5 cups mashed, seeds removed)
1 cup of ripe mango, diced (preferably the Haden variety)
1 cup of fresh or canned, crushed pineapple
1 tablespoon of honey
13.5 ounces of canned coconut milk
1 lime, juiced
crushed ice
shredded coconut and a wedge of watermelon, for garnish
1 shot of light rum into the bottom of each chilled glass (optional)

Add mango, pineapple, and honey to a blender, pulsing several times, then add seedless watermelon flesh, pulse again once or twice, leaving the solution with some texture and body from the fruit.

When you get the texture to where you like it, stir in the coconut milk, and fresh squeezed lime juice. Pour into glasses over crushed ice (if you’d like) and top with shredded coconut. Garnish with a wedge of watermelon and or lime. Makes 8 servings.

Note: For 9 more of my watermelon recipes, click here.

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