It’s not even summer yet, but it sure feels like it. The current heatwave in Los Angeles has us sweltering in 90-plus degree heat, even out on the coast where it’s usually temperate.
And if you stepped inside a California supermarket right now, you’d think summer was in full swing. Our produce aisles are packed with an abundance of watermelons and peaches, not to mention pineapples, strawberries, ears of corn, and organic heirloom tomatoes. Some of it comes from south of our border, but a surprising lot is harvested from farms around Southern and Central California — possibly in part to our very warm winter this year.
On hot and humid afternoons like this, where I’m stuck inside working all day with no air conditioner (it’s just not very common for a 1930s-era coastal bungalow), I can’t resist picking up a hefty, juicy watermelon while I wait for the melons in our garden to get going. If I end up with a really big fella, I’ll usually make an agua fresca for the week.
Aguas frescas (quite literally, “fresh waters”) are a popular refreshment in Mexico and Latin America, and they’re as ubiquitous as soda is here. They usually consist of a fruit juice blended with sugar and water, but some (like horchata) also contain grains, seeds, and flowers. A quick run through the blender and you have a light, invigorating drink that beats a soda any day. While aguas frescas are perfect as-is, I’ve been known to sneak a shot of rum or tequila in mine for happy hour at the house!
One of my favorite combinations to make is a watermelon and lime agua fresca, and it’s as refreshing and energizing as it sounds. I can easily down the whole pitcher myself! And here’s a fun fact: This recipe was originally developed for my forthcoming cookbook, until I decided I wasn’t doing drinks in it (due to space constraints). So, the book’s loss is your gain. Drink up!
A few notes before you begin: I used half of a 7-pound watermelon for this batch of agua fresca. It makes enough to fill a whole pitcher (about 3 liters, or 12 cups’ worth). If you don’t strain the juice, remember to stir up the pulp before serving.
Watermelon and Lime Agua Fresca
Makes 3 liters
For the Simple Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
For the Agua Fresca
12 cups cubed and seeded watermelon
2 cups water
Juice of 1 lime
1 lime, sliced
4 sprigs fresh mint
To make the simple syrup, bring the water and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Working in batches, combine the watermelon and water in a blender and puree until smooth. At this point, I simply pour it into a pitcher as I like my agua fresca on the chunkier side, but if you prefer a pulpless juice, strain through a fine mesh sieve.
Stir in the simple syrup, lime juice, lime slices, and mint. Refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors intermingle, and serve chilled.