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Cool summer sweets: Simple watermelon-strawberry mint granita

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The hot sun on your face; the warm summer breeze blowing against your skin; the waves lapping at your feet; and the cold, sweet taste of a snow cone on your lips. Welcome to summer! I practically lived off of snow cones, or shaved ice, or Hawaiian ice as a kid. To me, that cool concoction made of flakes of ice and sweet fruity syrup hailed the coming of summer. As an adult, those carefree days of ignorance of what went into my body was gone and I soon learned the awful secret of those artificial sweeteners and flavors that went into those tasty treats. Saddened and somewhat downtrodden, I went on a search to find a way to bring those wonderfully cool and sweet treats to my family, and without the guilt of artificial sweeteners and flavors. Through this search I discovered the refreshing world of the granita, an Italian dessert that is frozen and often used as an intermediate course in fine dining restaurants, made to cleanse the palate for the next course. Yet these are so simple to make (no shaved ice machinery required) that you can literally make them out of any fruit juice and spice combination that awakens your tastebuds and soothes your childhood soul. The sky is truly the limit here.

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With so many summer picnics and barbecues, I usually ended up with mounds of extra watermelon on most weekends. A granita is a great way to use leftover fruits and vegetables. This combination of watermelon, mint, strawberries, and lime juice is a cool, sweet, and refreshing way to not only use up some picnic leftovers, but to also make some tasty and healthy snow cones. Once frozen, serve these in snow cone wrappers, or simple serve in small bowls as a more elegant summer dessert. For adults, you can certainly add your favorite sparkling wine (such as Prosecco) or other beverage for an added indulgence. Enjoy!

Ingredients

Mint Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

Granita
2 cups fresh seedless watermelon, diced
1 cup fresh strawberries, halved
1/4 cup Mint Simple Syrup
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
dash of salt

To make the Mint Simple Syrup:

  1. Add the sugar and water to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Once the sugar is completely dissolved, add the mint leaves and remove from heat. Steep the mint in the syrup for 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Using a mesh strainer, strain the syrup into a container. An empty water bottle is a great way to save the syrup and use for various recipes. The syrup is great for teas, mint juleps (a bourbon drink), and the granita.

To make the Granita:

  1. Remove the ends of the watermelon. Set the watermelon on its side so that it is stable. Using a sharp knife, remove the rind and pith (the white part) from the watermelon.
  2. Slice the watermelon and the chop into similar size chunks. This will help it blend more easily.
  3. Juice one to two limes, depending on size. Set aside.
  4. Slice the strawberries in half, with the stem removed.
  5. In a blender, add the berries, watermelon, dash of salt, lime juice, and simple syrup.
  6. Blend until smooth. Add salt and syrup to suit your taste.
  7. Pour the puree into a mesh strainer that is set over a bowl or low casserole dish. Using a spoon, push as much of the liquid through the strainer as possible. The pulp and seeds (if any) will get caught in the strainer, leaving you with a clean and smooth juice.
  8. Pour the juice into a low baking dish, around 1 inch deep, and large enough to hold the juice and fit in your freezer. Place in the freezer.
  9. Every 20 to 30 minutes, scrape the sides and bottom of the granita with a fork. This forms the fluffy, snow-like consistency. This process takes a few hours, depending on the depth of the bowl. The deeper the bowl the longer it will take. A shallow 9 x 13 inch baking dish will take about 2 hours to scrape and freeze the granita.
  10. Once the entire granita has the fluffy, snow-like consistency, it is ready to serve. Cover any leftovers with plastic wrap and place back in the freezer. For a little fun, you can serve it in the same snow cone containers as the vendors on the beach, or for a more elegant version, simple serve it in a nice bowl with a sprig of mint for garnish. The granita is also amazing over vanilla ice cream! However you serve it, it is bound to be a huge hit. And knowing that it is made completely of fresh fruit juice, it is one of the few "guilt-free" desserts of the summer!
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