Agua de Sandia
Summer is here. School is out. Where we live (a tourist town) the beaches are crowded and visitors are roaming our downtown streets. Street vendors are making a killing selling icy drinks, lemonades and sugared corn on a stick. Mangos on a stick are available as well: dusted with Tajin (chili pepper, lime and salt powder).
Around our neighborhood several homes have small raised bed gardens with string beans, tomatoes and pepper plants that they will harvest all summer long. The farmers markets are packed with zucchini, yellow squash and of course summer fruits like plums, peaches, blueberries and raspberries.
For me, as the temperature rises, I look to one of summers best and maybe most iconic foods… watermelon. As a kid it seemed like we always had cut up watermelon in the refrigerator. It was definitely served every time we grilled outdoors, often simply cut into thick half moon slices that we would sprinkle with salt. In those days before growers figured out how to make seedless watermelons you had contests to see who could spit a seed the farthest. And if you believed your parents you were always worried that if you swallowed a seed it would grow into a tree.
These days’ watermelons are mostly seedless and while that has definitely changed the look of a slice, it certainly makes it easier to eat. Watermelon isn’t just for picnics or grilling days anymore. Outside of infusing vodka into watermelons or slicing the top off and making a punch bowl out of the rind, you may have had watermelon gazpacho, watermelon and feta cheese salads, or even watermelon BBQ sauce. All terrific options but as the summer days get hotter I turn to watermelon agua fresca, (aka agua de sandia) to help cool me down. The best part about this is you can make as much or as little as you like. Got a crowd coming over for a Labor Day celebration? Buy a big watermelon or two and make a lot. Are you like me and sitting in the backyard enjoying the peace and quiet? Buy a small personal sized watermelon and make just enough for you and maybe a guest should one drop by. You’ll need a good blender, a fine mesh sieve (to strain the juice) and a large pitcher but that’s about it.
This recipe makes a little over two quarts
12 cups of cubed watermelon (1 small “personal sized” mini watermelon)
4 to 5 cups water (more or less to taste)
1 cup sugar (you may not use all this sugar)
In a small saucepan combine 1 cup of the water and the sugar. Place over medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the mixture just to a boil (it should be completely clear by this point) then remove from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.
You just made simple syrup and it will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks. You may not use the entire amount of syrup in your aqua de sandia. Use what you like depending on the sweetness of your fruit. Any leftover simple syrup can be used for sweeting tea, or for making cocktails!
Put the cut up watermelon into a blender with 1 cup of the water and blend until the watermelon is completely pureed (you might have to do this in two batches), then pour through a fine mesh strainer into your container to remove any excess pulp or seeds. You’ll likely end up with about 5 cups of watermelon juice which is the perfect amount for a (slightly larger than) two quart batch.
The juice might be a little foamy at this point but that will dissipate, so no need to skim it off.
Stir in 2 cups of the water and the juice of the lime, then add the simple syrup to taste. Continue to add more water as needed to your liking. You should end up with at least 2 quarts, if not just a cup or two more.
Refrigerate your agua de sandia until completely chilled, as it is best when served very cold.
Stir well before serving over ice.
Too much juice? Simply increase the amount of water you add to achieve the desired consistency or if you have a lot of juice freeze it in small batches and save it for later.
The ratio I like is roughly 5 parts juice and 4 parts water/sweetener combined.