I miss lunchtime in Mexico. I had a ritual with friends that worked well for me and served as a wonderful culinary education during the time I spent there. Most days we’d gather in the kitchen, my friends warming up containers filled with food brought from their homes, and sit together discussing the day’s events. That hour was dedicated solely to food and camaraderie. As I looked on with intrigue at the homemade dishes my companions unveiled, inevitably I would ask what it was, how it was prepared and of course, if I could taste it. Tasting was always the best part and a delight to my palate. Commonplace dishes to my Mexican friends were to me like being a child tasting something for the first time.
These lunchtime gatherings provided the basis of my Mexican cooking knowledge. I am inquisitive by nature. Ask anyone close to me, and they will tell you I exhaust them with my curiosity. I have endless questions, and I want them all answered. I was no different with my lunchtime explorations. My friends were patient and accommodated my desire to know everything about a dish by offering recipes and explaining in great detail step by step preparations. They appreciated I was interested in such an essential part of their culture. They went to great lengths to bring me variations to taste and compare. They freely shared their home-cooked meals with me. On those rare occasions we ordered in or went out for lunch, they excitedly introduced me to new foods.
You can see why I miss the ritual. There was a casual ceremony to it all that brought a little excitement to midday and pulled me through the drudgery of the afternoon.
While I no longer partake in this treasured tradition, I find myself nostalgically craving those mealtime comforts. One of the most common at any meal in Mexico is agua fresca. I’ve waxed poetic about agua fresca before, and despite my opposition to its name, I enjoy nearly every flavor. I found melon to be a staple flavor offered throughout Mexico alongside Jamaica. However, I never knew what kind of melon would be brought when I ordered it. Sometimes it was a light chartreuse possibly Santa Claus melon, at other times a pale orange cantaloupe and occasionally I couldn’t identify the mystery melon. They all had one thing in common no matter the melon…they were delicious.
As the end of summer approaches with Labor Day on the horizon, candy-sweet cantaloupe is the perfect melon to use now. Simple and refreshing, drinking a glass is paying homage to my lunchtime buddies in Mexico who taught me more than any cookbook ever could.
- 1 medium cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and cut large cubes (about 5-6 cups)
- ¼ cup simple syrup (or less depending on the cantaloupe’s sweetness)
- 4 cups cold water
- Place a large strainer over a large bowl or pitcher and set aside.
- Working in batches, puree 2 cups of cold water, half the simple syrup and half the cantaloupe in a blender until smooth. Strain mixture over the bowl using a spatula or large spoon to help the liquid through the working in a circular motion and leaving only the solids. Discard the solids from the strainer. Puree the remaining cantaloupe and water until smooth repeating the straining process. Taste for sweetness and add the remaining syrup, if needed.
- Serve cold or over ice. Juice will keep for a few days refrigerated.
- If you want a drink without any texture, consider straining the puree twice.
- When picking a ripe cantaloupe, it should be slightly fragrant and feel heavy for its size. That heft indicates it’s juicy!
- Chilling the cantaloupe for a few hours beforehand makes the agua fresca ready immediately.
- Honeydew or any other in season melon works well in this recipe.