When I think of summer foods, I think watermelon, tomatoes, fresh basil, cherries, corn on the cob, and grilling. While you can technically get many of these foods year round, they’re a thousand times more flavorful from June to August, especially watermelon. If you live alone or have a small family, it can sometimes be a challenge to finish an entire watermelon. Instead of buying expensive pre-cut watermelon slices (and the styrofoam and plastic that come with them) to prevent food waste, you can use your leftover watermelon in a recipe. One of the best ways to use up your watermelon is in a refreshing summer drink: watermelon fresca!
Watermelon agua fresca is typically made with mint leaves, lime juice, and sugar. While I don’t have any fresh mint plants this year, I do have plenty of fresh basil in my barely 5 feet wide kitchen windowsill garden. It’s not the ideal spot* for growing plants, so I only pick herbs that I will use in cooking several times a week. For me, that’s basil.
Given that I had copious amounts of watermelon and basil leaves, basil watermelon fresca it was! With the addition of fresh lemon juice instead of lime, it’s Italian agua fresca, if you will. Predictable, as I sit here today (and often) eating a giant bowl of pasta with giardiniera, olive tapenade, tomatoes, and more basil.
*The ideal spot for an herb garden would be the south-facing bay windows in the living room. But that would just turn into a snack/chew toy for cats!
If following the recipe exactly, all of the flavors will be very concentrated. You can reduce the amount of syrup or lemon, or add more watermelon, if you’d prefer a lighter flavor. You could even experiment with different citrus fruits and simple syrup flavors. Blood orange and lavender simple syrup, anyone?
This watermelon fresca is delicious as is, but if you’d like to add liquor, it would pair well with a light rum or vodka. It’s a simple, refreshing cocktail to make for hot summer days.
Get the recipe:
Basil Watermelon Agua Fresca
Basil Simple Syrup:
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup loosely-packed fresh basil chopped
- 5-6 cups cold cubed watermelon
- 1/4-1/3 cup Basil Simple Syrup
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1/4 cup loosely-packed fresh basil
- Light rum or other liquor optional
For the Basil Simple Syrup:
- Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and stir.
- Place the saucepan on the stove over medium heat until it comes to a boil, stirring frequently.
- Once the sugar has dissolved, remove from heat.
- Add the fresh basil to the simple syrup and let steep for 30 minutes.
- Strain the basil out through a mesh strainer or cheesecloth, then transfer the syrup to a jar or bottle.
- Keep the syrup refrigerated.
- Combine the watermelon, Basil Simple Syrup, lemon juice, and basil in a blender.
- Blend until smooth, and transfer to a pitcher and refrigerate.
- If serving right away, fill 4 glasses with ice, and divide the agua fresca evenly between the glasses.
- If you'd like to add the light rum or another liquor to the watermelon fresca, add 1.5 ounces of rum to each serving and stir to mix in.