Watermelon soup keeps the cook cool

Easy-to-make gazpacho entices on a summer eve

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Gazpacho, that quintessential summer soup, comes in all colors and flavors. In addition to the traditional red hued, tomato-based original, I've seen recipes for white gazpachos made with cucumbers, and for green ones prepared with scallions and verdant herbs.

Some versions are assembled with almonds, while a few "nouvel" variations include additions of shellfish or prosciutto. Last year in a small Parisian bistro, I sampled the most unusual creation to date -- a watermelon gazpacho.

A delicious deep rose, the soup was served icy cold and was so enticing on a warm summer night that I asked if the chef would share the recipe. "Nothing could be simpler," he began, and explained that he had pureed cubed watermelon with bread, then countered the melon's sweetness with some vinegar. I took notes, and assembled the soup several times, substituting lime juice for the vinegar and adding a touch of heat with some red pepper flakes.

This year, as temperatures began to skyrocket, I pulled out the directions and started serving it again. Like all gazpachos, this one is easy on the cook and ideal for warm-weather entertaining. It requires minimal time in the kitchen, and you won't need to turn on the oven or the stovetop.

I began a recent backyard cooking class by serving this gazpacho in chilled glasses, garnishing each portion with a skewer of grilled watermelon cubes and fresh mint. Grilled sirloins topped with blue cheese butter, corn fritters, a tomato and bacon salad, and coconut cake followed. The show stopper of the menu, though, was the soup -- a cooling respite for a very hot evening.

Betty Rosbottom writes for Tribune Media Services.

Watermelon Gazpacho With Grilled Watermelon Skewers

Serves 6 (about 1-cup portions)

6 cups cubed watermelon, plus 12 (extra) 1-inch cubes for the garnish, seeded (about 5 pounds watermelon)

3/4 cup bread crumbs made from a day-old baguette with crusts removed

2 1/4 teaspoons fresh lime juice, plus more if needed

3/4 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

olive oil for oiling the grill and for brushing on the watermelon cubes

6 mint leaves

2 long skewers, preferably metal (see note)

6 short wooden skewers for the garnish

Place 6 cups of cubed watermelon in a colander for 5 minutes to drain any excess liquid. Transfer 1/3 of the drained watermelon and 1/3 of the bread to a blender or food processor. Pulse mixture until slightly chunky and transfer to a large, nonreactive bowl. Repeat with the remaining watermelon and bread in 2 more batches. Stir in the lime juice, salt and red pepper flakes.

Cover the bowl and freeze until mixture is slushy, but not frozen, about 1 1/2 hours or longer. Taste, and add additional salt or lime juice if desired.

For the garnish, skewer the remaining 12 watermelon cubes on 2 long skewers and brush the cubes with olive oil. Oil a grill rack and prepare grill for a hot fire. Grill the watermelon, turning several times until grill marks appear, about 5 minutes or longer. (You can also use a stovetop grill pan - oil the pan and place it over medium high heat. Grill watermelon, turning until grill marks appear, about 5 minutes.) Remove the cubes and cool.

Skewer 2 grilled cubes with a mint leaf in between on each of the short wooden skewers. Ladle the icy watermelon gazpacho into 6 medium chilled glasses or wine glasses, and garnish each serving with a watermelon skewer. Note: If using long wooden skewers, soak them for 30 minutes in water.

Per serving: 167 calories, 4 grams protein, 1 gram fat, trace saturated fat, 38 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 0 milligrams cholesterol, 393 milligrams sodium

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