Everyone in this house loves melons, any and all, Cantaloupe, Galia, Honeydew, Canary, Piel de Sapo (which Felix calls the “american football melon, just green” – I don’t know, better or worse than its real name – “Skin of the Toad”, anyone?) Charentais, all are good. We eat them for desert, they go in lunchboxes (messy…but so yummy!), I wrap them with prosciutto or prepare them as a salad with arugula and lots of cracked black pepper – my friend Anne-Sophie introduced me to a grown-up only version of eating the small charentais melons for desert: halved around the equator, deseeded and the resulting hollow filled with port wine – thanks, Anne-Sophie and it goes without saying, it’s a french thing and the melons need to be super ripe and soft, else it’s a bloodbath….
So, melons are good, but watermelons are in a class of their own. Around here, when I buy a watermelon, I have to be quick, if I want to use it for something else than “just” eating; blink, and it’s gone, and a small wonder: they have an irresistible color, they’re better than water on a warm day, they have this cucumbery fresh smell when you slice into them; they’re juicy and just on the right side of sweet – and: they make good soup. The soup I have in mind is not a sweet soup, or dessert; this is a dinner soup with surprisingly big, bold flavors. The aromatics are clearly thai-inspired: lemongrass, garlic, ginger, hot green chiles and lime juice, to balance the sweetness of the watermelon juice that makes up the bulk of the soup. Strictly speaking, this is a vegetarian soup – but in case you’re feeling fishy, it goes well with grilled shrimp, grilled or pan roasted scallops, crawfish tails, or – if you feel like a splurge – crabmeat. We like to eat the soup with some crusty bread, french baguette, if possible, or italian ciabatta, or in a pinch foccacia, which makes this a culinarily confused, but very tasty dinner.
A word of caution: the ingredients in this dish don’t provide much bulk to take the heat; before adding your chiles, try them first, or you’ll end up with soup so hot, you’ll find yourself heading back to the store to purchase an even bigger watermelon and you’ll end up with enough watermelon soup to feed your family (…and your friends and your neighbors…) for weeks on end.
Note: blending the pink watermelon juice with the aromatics will turn the whole thing a very nice shade of orange; so if you feel like Harry Potter in his potions class (“your potion should turn to a pale pink color; the preparation is now complete”), that’s just fine.
serves 2 hungry grown-ups for dinner, or 4 less hungry people for lunch
A 2 kg (4 lb) piece of watermelon, chopped (seeded, if your watermelon has any and rind discarded)
1 stalk lemongrass
1 small onion
1 piece of ginger, about as long as your thumb
3 cloves of garlic
1 (or more, to taste) green thai or serrano or jalapeño chile
juice of 1 lime
1/2 tsp salt
2 tblsp olive oil
1. Purée the watermelon in a blender, or use an immersion blender instead, if you prefer. You should get about 1.5 l (6 cups) of watermelon juice from that.
2. Peel off one or two of the tough outer leaves of the lemongrass and cut off the root end. Thinly slice the bottom 15 cm (5 inches) of the lemongrass stalk and then mince.
3. Finely chop the onion, garlic and ginger.
4. In a saucepan big enough to hold the watermelon juice, sautée the lemongrass, onion, ginger and garlic in the olive oil until soft and fragrant.
5. Add 2 cups of the watermelon juice and cook for 5 minutes, the transfer to the blender; chop the chile and add to the blender along with the lime juice and salt and blend until smooth. Remember that hot things expand when blending them; leave out the small middle piece in your blenders’ lid and stick in a balled up tea towel instead for some better ventilation. Else it’s not only going to be a mess, but painful, too.
6. Add the rest of the watermelon juice, blend briefly and adjust the taste with more salt, lime juice or chile.
7. At this point I pour the soup back into the pot, and reheat it, but if you find the texture too grainy (depending on how efficient your blender is; I use a Kitchen Aid and consequently get to chew on a piece of lemongrass on or off….), you can strain the soup, pressing on the remaining solids, to extract all the liquid and give it a smoother texture.
Serve with bread and a squeeze of lime over the crustaceans of your choice, if you decide to have any and enjoy!