The last time I chopped up a watermelon in haste for a company meal, the area around my cutting board looked like a crime scene requiring forensic attention from the blood spatter pattern analysis team on the TV show Dexter. All that was missing was the chalk outline of a body. So I was a little hesitant to attempt a new watermelon-based recipe in the chaos of my sisters’ rented cabin during this week’s family reunion. But having been served watermelon gazpacho at a friend’s home just days before, I couldn’t resist trying her mouthwatering recipe on such a wide selection of taste testers. In a moment of happy inspiration, I recruited Rich to do the actual chopping, as he is far neater at such tasks than I am, so the carnage was kept to a minimum.
With all the pandemonium and crowding and three dogs running about underfoot, I never did manage to shoot a video of the process, but here’s one I found on YouTube that will give you a general idea how the dish is made.
The result is a cold summer soup that’s sweet yet spicy, smooth yet chunky, a dizzying mix of flavors and textures. On top of everything else, it’s red, which places it in the category of foods Americans like to serve each other during Fourth of July week. Over the years it has become fashionable to express patriotism by coming up with ever-more-elaborate ways to create party foods with the colors and/or design of our national flag.
Of course, actual American flags are flying everywhere this week, and just about every town has some form of a parade, either on Independence Day itself or the following Saturday. The one Rich and I attended this week in the small town of Larkspur, California was typically funky yet over-the-top.
Living in Spain most of the year, I get a lot of questions about my country and culture, and coming up with answers isn’t always easy. I’m particularly stumped when the subject is food. Europeans always want to know what constitutes true American cuisine, and I can never figure out what to tell them. Hamburgers and hot dogs? They both originated in Germany. Pizza? Italian. Apple pie? English. Our Southern fried chicken recipe appeared in a fourth century Roman cookbook and was a Scottish family favorite long before our country was founded. What’s actually native to our nation? Turkeys, sunflowers, and sumpweed. I’m not sure even the Food Network’s top chefs could parlay that combo into anything to write home about.
So I’ve decided to nominate watermelon gazpacho as our national dish. I know what you’re thinking: watermelon isn’t native to the Americas, it comes from Africa. Right you are! And while tomatoes are native to our hemisphere, their original home was far south of the border in the Andes mountains. Cucumbers hail from South Asia. Feta cheese is Greek. The recipe for gazpacho was invented in Seville, Spain, and while no one’s quite sure who first made melons into soup, most likely it was the ancient Chinese. Somehow it all works together — the embodiment of our national motto, e pluribus unum (out of many, one).
Like chopping watermelon, Democracy is a messy business, and you’ll never get large groups of people to agree on any important question, from the ideal role of government to whether you should add diced avocado to the toppings on the soup (I vote yes, but hey, I add avocado to just about everything). I’m not saying that watermelon gazpacho can unite our troubled nation, but it did put a bit more union in my family reunion this week, and that’s a start.
Get the recipe
How to cut up a watermelon in 21 seconds
What foods are you inspired to make at the holidays? Do you have a nominee for America's national dish?
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I'm an American travel writer based in Spain, to which I've just returned after a 16-month absence due to the pandemic.
As I resettle in Seville, my favorite city on the planet, I'll keep you posted on how the pandemic has reshaped the landscape and where to go to find fun, adventure, and great food in this quirky, engaging city.
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