Watermelon soup? That's cool.
Cooks all over the United States have been challenged for more than a month with sweltering heat. A reader in Texas asked me if I could publish a recipe for something that wouldn't melt. Someone in North Carolina living without air conditioning didn't want to turn on his stove or his oven. He was cooking outside on two black rocks heated by the sun. Even though my house is air-conditioned, the grill on my deck is getting a workout.
Call in the watermelon. With a moisture content of over 90 percent, a slice of cold, ripe watermelon is a refreshing treat, whether it's 90 degrees outside with 90 percent humidity, or 72 degrees with a cool, dry breeze that blows away any trace of moisture in the air.
A few weeks ago I sampled Watermelon Gazpacho at a food and wine-tasting event. The sweet and tangy chilled soup reminded me of the watermelon salsa a friend concocted last summer -- a mixture of watermelon cubes, cilantro, green onions and a generous squirt of lime juice. It was surprisingly tasty with salty tortilla chips.
Gazpacho, a Spanish soup, is traditionally made with fresh tomatoes and other raw garden vegetables and served cold.
My version of gazpacho is based on the salsa I enjoyed last summer. Made with watermelon, but no tomatoes, I just call it Chilled Watermelon Soup. Chunks of ripe watermelon are pureed in a blender or food processor to form the liquid portion of the soup. Today, seedless watermelon makes cutting the heavy round or oval fruit into small pieces very quick and easy. Going seedless will make the preparation much more convenient than using a variety that will have you picking out pesky black seeds . You might find some tiny white seeds, but they are edible.
Bits of bright-colored bell peppers and a fiery jalapeno are stirred into the ruby base, along with green onions. Lime juice and red wine vinegar add tang.
Watermelon is related to cucumbers and shares many of its flavor characteristics. Together, they create a taste of soft cherry and sweet grass. A crisp, juicy, garden-fresh cucumber pulls this soup together.
The soup can be mixed up and refrigerated for up to a day before serving. I like to top each cup of soup with a dollop of sour cream, plain yogurt or, my favorite, crème fraiche.
Minced cilantro and mint are sprinkled over the soup at serving time. Since mint is one of those herbs that turn dark as soon as you chop it, I try to wait until I'm just about ready to serve the soup before I use the sharp blade of a chef's knife to whack the mint and cilantro together into fine pieces on a cutting board.
Chilled Watermelon Soup is a refreshing summertime appetizer served in small cups or shot glasses. I like a bowl for lunch. It gives me a nice punch of vitamins A and C as well as well as a dose of lycopene -- the same red-tinged antioxidant found in tomatoes, linked to a lower risk of certain cancers.
You might miss sweet watermelon juice running down your chin when you eat it in a soupy form. But it doesn't melt and you won't need to heat up your kitchen. You can leave the hot rocks in the yard for turtles and snakes to laze on.
Just sit back and cool off with Chilled Watermelon Soup.
Chilled Watermelon Soup
1 watermelon (3-4 pounds), diced (about 5 cups), divided
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
1/2 of a red bell pepper, diced
1/2 of a yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup chopped green onions
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh mint
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Crème fraiche, sour cream or plain Greek-style yogurt, for serving
Set 1 cup of diced watermelon aside. Puree the remaining 4 cups of watermelon in a food processor or blender. Pour pureed melon into a large glass bowl.
Add diced cucumber, all of the peppers, the reserved 1 cup of watermelon cubes, lime juice and vinegar. Stir to combine. Cover bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 24 hours.
At serving time, ladle soup into small cups or bowls. Top with a dollop of crème fraiche. Sprinkle each serving with mint and cilantro. Makes 6 to 8 appetizer servings or 4 entrée servings.
Tips from the cook
--If you'd prefer less crunch in the soup, it can be pureed before chilling. It sets the color off, though. I prefer to see the bright colored bits in the ruby-hued soup and feel the crisp vegetables on my teeth.
--To prepare the jalapeno, cut the stem end off and slice the pepper in half lengthwise. Use a teaspoon to scrape the seeds and white membrane out of the halves. If your skin is sensitive to the hot oils, wear plastic gloves when working with jalapenos.
--Crème fraiche is a French-style sour cream. With a high fat content it is creamy with a slight tang. You will find it in well-stocked grocery stores. Expect to pay more for crème fraiche than for conventional sour cream.