Watermelon Lime Granita

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August 3rd is National Watermelon Day. At least this one make sense, you know? Sometimes the national food days are completely off.

When it comes to melon, I’m partial to cantaloupe, but it’s hard to deny the appeal of the sweet and juicy watermelon in the summer. “When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat,” as Mark Twain put it.

I looked into the history of the watermelon, which I knew nothing about. Watermelon, it turns out, has a long story.

Watermelon originated in Africa more than 5,000 years ago, possibly in the Kalahari Dessert. During these times, before the fruit was cultivated into the sweet treat we think of today, the watermelon was used predominately as a water source when traveling long distances, as the pulp is about 90% water. Researchers have found hieroglyphs on the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs, and even remnants of watermelons buried alongside the mummies to keep them hydrated on their journey to the Underworld.

The use of the watermelon as a canteen of sorts may also have been responsible for its spread across the world. Watermelon was introduced to the New World in some measure by European colonists, but predominately by African slaves, as early as the 1600’s. The history of its cultivation in the States is intertwined with the ugly history of race, and it has served as a reminder of the injustice of slavery and as a sign of the independent success of former slaves after Emancipation. Unfortunately, as former slaves used the watermelon to assert their freedom, by growing and selling the fruit, the watermelon also became a racist symbol with a nasty connotation.

New immigrants to the States claimed it for their story too, growing watermelon as a treat unto itself on their small farms. Farmers in the Plains states, particularly Nebraska and Oklahoma–where it is the state vegetable (that’s a whole separate controversy)–a good watermelon crop became the symbol of prosperity.

Like so many foods that we eat in the United States today, if it had not been for the intercontinental voyages of the human race, just and unjust, willing and unwilling, out of curiosity, or need, or coercion, our diet in North America would be very different than it is today.

The watermelon recipe I made is much simpler than the millennia-old history of the watermelon: Granita! Granita was created in Sicily (where watermelon was brought during the Middle Ages by the Arabs.)

If you had asked me a few days ago if I had any interest at all in granita, not to mention if I even technically considered it a dessert, my answer would have been a resounding, “No.” To be honest, when starting this recipe, my main goal was to find a way to use up some of the 9,000 lb watermelon that we bought. My focus was on procuring the rind to make some watermelon rind preserves and pickles after being inspired by the watermelon episode of my favorite show A Chef’s Life. (Fun fact: The first cookbook published in the U.S. in 1776 contained a recipe for watermelon rind pickles.) But I wanted to make something easy and refreshing, and a big jug of watermelon rind pickles just wasn’t piquing my interest.

My second inspiration came in the form of a cocktail. One of my favorite bars/restaurants in the city, Little Bad Wolf, makes a delicious drink featuring a scoop of basil and Peychaud’s granita slowly melting in a tequila cocktail bath. So, to celebrate the humble watermelon, I thought I would make a watermelon granita and, instead of splashing it in a cocktail, just eat it all at once.

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Watermelon Lime Granita
Makes about 6 servings.

Ingredients:
4 rounded cups (seedless, or seeded) watermelon, cubed
Juice of one small lime (About 1 tbsp)
1/3-1/2 cup sugar (depending on how sweet your watermelon is)
1/2 cup heavy cream, optional

Instructions:

Combine watermelon, lime juice, and sugar in a food processor or blender. Blend until mostly liquefied. If there are still bits of pulp, that’s fine.

Pour into an 8 x 8 x 2-in pan. Refrigerate for about 2 hours, scraping the sides of the pan into the center of the mixture every half hour.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy!

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A simple, no-cook recipe for the dog days of summer. Pro tip: I list the whipped cream as “optional” in the recipe, but it shouldn’t be. Don’t question it. I’ll admit I was skeptical, but something about the combination of crunchy ice and silky cream together is magical. Also, maybe you could scoop this granita into a tequila cocktail. It won’t be the worst decision you make this summer.

Carrot Zucchini Snack Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

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I do realize this is not a topical post. There is a big football game happening on Sunday. I should be making party foods. Turns out, grandma had no recipes for nachos or jalapeno poppers. Instead, this is a completely self-serving post. Today is national carrot cake day, (Have I mentioned how I’m both completely intrigued, yet totally confused by these national food days?), but this carrot cake is really a vindication. A few months ago, we were going to our friends’ house for dinner. I insisted, insisted, on them letting us bring something and they finally caved and said I could bring dessert. At some point during my baking, I realized that something had gone terribly, terribly wrong with my carrot zucchini mini cake. I’ve made this recipe a zillion times, so I don’t know what distracted mistake I made, but what I was left with was a little 6-inch rock, with no time to make, or even buy, something else.

Our friends were, of course, lovely about it, because we have great friends. But deep down (or quite obviously), I was both mortified and determined to redeem myself.

This recipe is not one of grandma’s either. It’s actually a version of my mom’s zucchini bread that she got from God-knows-where. The ingredients are the same, but changing the proportions slightly takes them from a denser bread, to a lighter cake. I had to try a couple of times, but I think we’ve got it. Also, feel free to play around with the spices. I like a spicy carrot cake, but if you prefer just cinnamon (or that’s all you have on hand and you don’t want to go buy several other expensive bottles of spices), you could do that too.

For the frosting, cream cheese is the obvious choice. I love cream cheese, but I love, love, love maple syrup. I put it in everything, including my coffee. I’m turning into Buddy from Elf. I thought maple cream cheese frosting would go well with this spicy cake. I was not wrong.

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Carrot Zucchini Snack Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients:
For cake:
1 1/4 cup flour
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp coriander
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla
1 whole egg
1 egg white
1 1/4 cups zucchini, shredded
1 1/4 cups carrot, shredded

For frosting:
8 ounces of cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup maple syrup, room temperature

Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grease an 8×8-inch pan, and line with parchment paper so that you leave “handles” exposed above the height of the pan.

Wash well 1 medium zucchini and 3 medium carrots. Shave the rough skin off the carrot. The zucchini’s skin can be left intact. Grate 2 1/2 cups of a combination of zucchini and carrots.

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and coriander.

In a large bowl, combine the oil, honey, vanilla, and eggs. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined. Add the grated vegetables to the mixture and stir until everything is incorporated.

Pour the mixture into the greased pan and bake for 32-35 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at 32 minutes by inserting a toothpick into the middle.

When done, remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in pan for about 5-10 minutes. Then remove from the pan with the parchment paper “handles” and allow to cool for an additional 45 minutes to an hour on a cooling rack.

For the frosting, beat together the cream cheese and maple syrup.

Once the cake has cooled completely, frost cake and serve.

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Chock full of veggies, but still rich and delicious. I think the little orange and green flecks throughout are cool. If you have kids, they¬† probably won’t like that, but I don’t know what to tell you. Get better kids? Tell them they’re Lucky Charms marshmallows? I’m not a parent, clearly.

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