WatermelonAs we head into the Fourth of July weekend, there are few flavors that come to mind as vividly as watermelon.  Sure, you might think of hamburgers and hotdogs first, but just the mention of the word ‘watermelon’ is enough to trigger sense-memories of sugary sweet fruit, juices running down your face (and arms), and that light, fresh scent.

For some of us, though, it’s not enough to just enjoy the watermelon in its natural, unadulterated state.  We need to get creative, coming up with recipes that pair chunks of watermelon with radishes, pears…and blue cheese!  (NOTE: Oops! Colleen pointed out that this is actually a recipe for watermelon radishes, not watermelon and radishes.  Sorry about that!)  Or tomatoes, basil and feta.  Or any number of other sweet-savory combinations.

But there’s a middle ground, as well, and we found it in Summer Cocktails, another one of our liquid-focused recipe collections.  As we worked our way through the June Cookbook Challenge, we occasionally sought ‘refresher’ dishes – lighter fare so we weren’t making 30 weighty entrees over the course of the month.  When we saw a recipe for a watermelon agua fresca in the book, we knew we had a winner.

Generally speaking, aguas frescas are basically drinkable fruit.  Like a smoothie, without the yogurt.  And this recipe didn’t mess with that.

Watermelon Agua FrescaCut 1/4 large watermelon (about 1 3/4 pounds) from the rind and put the flesh – seeds and all – into a blender.  Add 1 cup sparkling or still water and a pinch of salt.  You can also add 1/2 ounce lime juice, but we didn’t want to compromise the watermelon flavor so we left it out.  Blend until smooth.  Strain into a pitcher.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.  Serve.

It’s just that easy.  And the results were about as delicious as you might expect – drinking the very essence of watermelon.  The recipe warns that you should taste the melon first, to make sure the sweetness is sufficient…a bitter agua fresca could be a real disappointment.  And don’t stop with watermelon, either.  Feel free to try this same recipe with other summer fruits and melons – we’ve seen strawberry, raspberry, honeydew, canteloupe and others worked into aguas frescas at places like Taqueria Nacional and others around town that serve them.

We did notice that the heavier solids within the drink tended to settle out the longer we left it in the refrigerator, but a quick stir with a wooden spoon immediately reincorporated everything into a sweet suspension.

My suggestion?  Pick up a watermelon today and make up a quadruple batch of this stuff for your holiday weekend.  As you can see from the picture, a single batch just won’t last you very long so you’ll want the reinforcements on hand.  And if you’re feeling particularly festive, think back to your college days – if you can put vodka into a watermelon, why can’t you do the same to a watermelon agua fresca?