Forget everything you know about spicy foods. Chili heat, in the form of a cold beverage is a different sensation altogether. I'm not saying it's easier to handle, or better or worse, I'm just saying it's probably a feeling you're not familiar with. And, if nothing else, you should give it a try because it'll surprise you. Drinking (or eating) foods that are cold in temperature, but packing an unexpected punch of serious Scoville-scale heat from one of the world's hottest chili peppers was new to me, and a bit of a trip. Similar to the way hearing unexpected news can become all you can think about, watermelon-habanero-lemonade may consume your thoughts after you give it a try.
I got the idea for this drink from my friend Daniel, who is constantly tackling big culinary projects. He said he was inspired by a drink he saw at Cosi, that lunch chain that is all over NYC. He said it was a big hit at a BBQ he brought it to, and after asking nicely, he agreed to share it with me. I set out to make this drink excited to try my hand at my first watermelon beverage. The color and the natural sweetness are just too enticing to not want to drink it. Besides, half the time you get a good piece of watermelon it's dripping down your face anyways, I figured putting it in a glass would look a bit more dignified. Has anyone else noticed that watermelon juice seems to be the Summer 2010 trendy cocktail ingredient of choice? Dan added some optional rosewater, but I don't care for the flavor, so I omitted it. If you happen to like the flavor of old-lady perfume, go ahead and add it, your drink will seem extra fancy and exotic.
I only have an immersion blender, so this process took a little longer for me then it needs to for you, if you have access to a blender just whizz it all up quickly. Basically there's not much to it after pureeing, except straining the watermelon pulp out of the drink, so it retains that beautiful color and isn't chunky looking. I used half a habanero, because I can't handle foods that are too spicy without frantically looking for dairy products to put out the fire, but I think next time even I could have handled letting the habanero steep a little longer before straining. I didn't add any alcohol to my batch, but I'm sure most of you know would want the added kick, and almost anything you have on hand, vodka, tequila, or rum would work nicely here - little paper umbrella optional. Make sure you drink up quick though, because watermelon juice does not keep long before the smell, not just the heat, will be surprising to you.
Watermelon-Habanero-Lemonade Makes about 3 quarts.
- 1/4 seedless watermelon (due to differences in size and sweetness best to have more on hand)
- 1/2 habanero pepper (seeded and deveined, handle carefully)
- 1 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 6-12 mint leaves
- 6 cups room temperature water
- Optional: 2 teaspoons rose water
Cube the watermelon, being careful to use only the red part and avoid the white part near the rind.
Remove seeds and ribs from habanero and dice (be extremely careful when cutting and handling habaneros -- wash your hands well after touching them and avoid touching your eyes).
Combine the watermelon and habanero with the other ingredients in a blender (or if using an immersion blender, a large pot). Blend everything to a fine puree and allow to steep for a few minutes. Test for sweetness, heat, minty-ness, watermelony-ness. Adjust accordingly, and re-blend if needed.
Strain out the pulp by draining first through a fine mesh sieve. This may require you to push the juice through the sieve with a back of a spoon as the pulp builds up in the sieve.
Chill well in the refrigerator and serve in a tall glass filled with ice (it really is important that it be served ice cold). A sprig of fresh mint or a lemon slice looks awfully nice as a garnish to a tall glass of this stuff.