Keep calm (and cool) and add watermelon

By Judith Dunbar Hines Staff Reporter

June 30, 2014 4:54PM

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Updated: July 7, 2014 12:04PM

My first trip to China was a long time ago but the memorieslive clearly in my mind.

Everything was new and exotic to us. We were a curious bunch, hungry for the experience as much as the foods. Each day, a different chef taught us recipes from their native provinces. We went to the markets, learned about unusual ingredients, discovered new tastes we had not experienced in Chicago restaurants. My diary listed 365 different things we had eaten — my taste buds had quite a workout on that trip.

I remember the temples, the crowds, the sight of a live pig strapped to the back of a scooter and zipping through the chaotic streets.

It was hot, humid and uncomfortable most of the time. So it is no wonder that one of the things that became a permanent memory was of a vendor on a street just outside a museum. A line of people, coins in hand, waited as he whipped up some delicious looking drink in a battered blender hooked to a curbside electric generator.

We could see that the primary ingredient was cubes of watermelon. After couple of other additions, he poured the slush into a plastic bag, inserted a straw, tied the top shut and handed it over. An ingenious packaging method, we thought. We could see ice going into the mixture, which of course we had been warned about, but it was so hot. The courageous of us got in line.

What we tasted was icy cold, sweet and welcome on that steamy street.

Since then, I’ve made a similar treat every summer. I’ve made many variations, including adding liquor. And in a recent update, added fresh herbs. This is one of those versions.

While restaurants and bars offer a myriad of innovative mixed drinks these days, nothing beats the one I learned on a sweltering side street in China 30 years ago!

Judith Dunbar Hines is a cooking teacher, tour guide, writer and culinary consultant in Chicago

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