I have a confession to make: this heat is kicking my butt. I know how earth-shattering this must sound: A 35-week pregnant woman is being done in by a streak of 95-degree muggy days in a city that requires walking, stair-climbing and waiting endlessly for trains on airless, timeless subway platforms? You don’t say!
But my confession is really about it being bad enough for me admit it, awful enough for me to break my own rules about what I will and will not complain about: Arugula that goes bad the day after you buy it? Fair game! The weather, and how it is hot, very hot? Nope! There is no more banal topic of conversation than the air out there, so let me attempt to stop this whining in its tracks. Also not up for discussion? How long 12 blocks feels when you’re carrying a watermelon. The oven, or any oven. Sautéing. Boiling things. Eating food that is in any way heated. The sixteen things I’d like to do with the eggplants and tomatoes I’ve hauled in from the markets this week, as they all require proximity to a lit stove, and that, my friends, is also not going to cut it.
Instead, let’s talk about a good and established way to cool down — I mean, besides sticking your head in the freezer, though lord knows I’ve done plenty of that this week — and it goes by the name of agua fresca, or “fresh water”. These drinks are made from any combination of fruits or herbs, water and sugar, and always served icy cold. There’s so much to like about them: they’re gorgeously hued, but mildly flavored. They’ve got none of the syrupy sweetness of bottled fruit juices, tasting instead like the sippable fruits that they are. A good one will taste like you managed to liquefy a piece of fruit without altering it one bit, and a great one will make you forget, even temporarily, exactly how much steam is coming off the sidewalks downstairs.
And although there are enough ingenious agua fresca combinations out there to keep you sipping through Thanksgiving — pineapple-ginger, strawberry watermelon or cucumber mint, anyone? — this melon version is my current favorite, as it extracts both the pretty color and mellow flavor from cantaloupes and honeydews and siphons them into your glass. It couldn’t be more perfect for days like today, when it feels too hot to eat anything that must be lifted with a fork.
One year ago: Dimply Plum Cake
Melon Agua Fresca [Melon Coolers]
Adapted from Gourmet, August 2009
Makes 8 drinks in 10-ounce glasses
1 (4-pound*) cantaloupe or honeydew melon, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 8 cups)
1 1/2 cups water
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar (optional, I skipped this)
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 quart chilled club soda or seltzer
Garnish: lime wedges or melon slices
Purée melon in batches with water in a blender or food processor, however, if you use the latter be extra careful as the food processor does not excel in handling large amounts of liquid.
Transfer to a colander lined with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) or fine cheesecloth set over a deep bowl and let drain about one hour. Gather ends of towel and very gently squeeze any remaining juice from melon, then discard solids. Stir in lime juice, sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt and chill for another hour.
Divide among 8 (10-ounces) glasses and top off with club soda. Or vodka. Look, I know some of you are going to anyway; just don’t forget to share.
Do ahead: Drinks, without club soda, can be made 4 days ahead and chilled. Add soda just before serving.
* My cantaloupe weighed 2 pounds, my honeydew weighed 7 1/2. I suppose that perfect four-pound melon specimens exist, just certainly not where I shop!