I’ve ordered watermelon-mint lemonade, a perfect summer beverage, at numerous bubble tea spots, and it’s a staple on the menu at the High Hat Cafe, which has become my hangout here in New Orleans. This isn’t a pre-mixed concoction that arrives via food supplier truck; the cafe takes this beverage very seriously.
The painstaking process begins by peeling a full-sized watermelon, the kind you bring to a picnic. Then, the rind is removed for pickling. The flesh is chopped up, the seeds are removed, and the flesh and juice are pressed through a cotton cloth into a giant tub, where it becomes a vat of puree. The end result is stored in giant jars, ready to be combined with High Hat’s housemade lemonade (another by-hand production) and garnished with mint.
There’s got to be an easier way, I thought. Inspiration struck when I walked into Trader Joe’s and saw those cute round mini-melons on display. Since Trader Joe’s sells bottled lemonade, and I was growing mint on my balcony, I decided to give my own recipe a whirl. It was so easy, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it before.
Yes, the High Hat’s version is more professional—the cafe has a James Beard Award–nominated chef, after all—but if you crave watermelon lemonade as much as I do, you’ll be glad to learn how to put it together.
- 1 to 1½ cups of seedless watermelon chunks (about half of a mini-melon)
- 1/2 cup lemonade
- 1 tsp. honey (optional)
- 3-4 mint leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
- 2-3 ice cubes
Place the mint leaves in the bottom of a 16-ounce glass. Look over the watermelon and remove any sizable darker seeds (the soft white ones should pulverize). Place the lemonade and watermelon chunks in the blender. Start on a low speed so that the lemonade can help the watermelon break down. Once you’ve got a fairly smooth puree, add the ice cubes one by one, then bump up the blender speed until you stop hearing the sound of ice being crushed. Give it a taste, and if you would like it sweeter, add the honey. Pour into the glass on top of the mint leaves, and top with a sprig of mint garnish.
This is fabulous on its own, but these riffs will boost the flavor even more:
- Lime it by swapping limeade for the lemonade (you may need to add more honey, depending on the tartness of the limeade). Alternatively, add 1-2 teaspoons of lime to give it a citrusy edge.
- Spice it with 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, or 1 teaspoon of ginger.
- Booze it with 1 ounce of rum, tequila, or vodka.
- Freeze it in a plastic storage container for watermelon-lemon sorbet. Mak a float by adding a scoop of this frozen mixture to regular lemonade.
- Flower it by adding 1 teaspoon of rosewater.