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Patio Party

Pretty Watermelon and Cucumber Salsa

With a Zesty Tequila Granita

John Pozdro

You can eat your salsa . . . and drink it, too! This is a party in a bowl: colorful, vibrant, and a bit wild. Show off the pretty colors of tequila-marinated watermelon balls and slices of crunchy, green pickling cucumbers from small, clear, wide-mouthed margarita, sorbet, or champagne glasses. Top with a rosy granita (an icy sorbet) and garnish with a wedge of lime and a mint sprig. Pass bowls of Cotija cheese for added texture and enjoy a sweet, salty, piquant, cold, and refreshing surprise with each bite. Serve as a salad, between courses, or as a light, summery dessert.

Once eaten, sip the juice remaining in the glass (perhaps with a bit more granita), accompanied by (or mixed with) an ice-cold shot of tequila blanco. 

5 cups sweet, seedless watermelon balls (chill and reserve any watermelon juice released while making them)
5 cups (about 1 1/2 pounds) pickling cucumbers, medium slice (to produce a decorative edge, tine the length of the cucumbers all around with a fork before cutting them)
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon or more Cantina Classic Spicy Mexican Seasoning Salt (or a commercial brand)
1–2 red Fresno peppers, finely diced
1 serrano pepper, finely diced
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1 large bunch green onions, sliced with some green tops
3 ounces chilled tequila blanco (use 100-proof for less dilution)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, preferably from Mexican (Key) limes
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, loosely chopped
3/4 cup Cotija cheese, loosely crumbled
Rosy granita (for recipe, see note below)
Mint or cilantro sprigs for garnish
Lime wedges 

Keep watermelon balls chilled as you prepare other ingredients. Place sliced cucumbers in a 9 x 13 inch-glass dish. Sprinkle both sides of the cucumbers with the sugar, Spicy Mexican Seasoning Salt, hot peppers, citrus zests, and green onion, pressing well into the cucumbers. Drizzle with lime juice and tequila, as you toss in the watermelon balls, fresh mint, and cilantro. Add another light sprinkling of seasoned salt, if you wish. Chill, basting often, as lots of juices will release. After about half an hour, pour off enough of the liquid to make the granita (recipe follows), still leaving some liquid to baste the watermelon and cucumbers.

I can’t offer an exact recipe for the granita, as it will depend upon the amount and sweetness of the reserved watermelon juice and the flavor of the liquid rendered from the marinated watermelon and cucumbers. Here’s an approximation, but flavor to suit your own taste: 

3/4 cup reserved watermelon juice
3/4 cup marinade drained from watermelon and cucumbers
Splash of tequila (not too much or granita won’t freeze)
Splash of Cointreau
Squeeze of lime
Agave syrup
Cantina Classic Spicy Mexican Seasoning Salt

Pour granita ingredients into to a small, shallow stainless steel pan. As it freezes (within about 1/2 hour), scrape across the top of the granita with a fork to break up ice crystals. Freeze and scrape again, until granita resembles consistency of shaved ice–approximately 1 hour.

Serve the colorful cucumber and watermelon medley in chilled glasses, spooning some of its juices into each glass. Top each with a spoonful of the icy granita. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint or cilantro, a wedge of lime, and pass a shaker of the seasoned salt, bowls of loosely crumbled Cotija cheese, and icy shots of tequila blanco!

Serves 10 or more.

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