Watermelon cooler (agua de sandia)

Time 35 minutes
Yields Serves 12 to 14
Watermelon cooler (agua de sandia)
(Los Angeles Times)
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We all know that throwing a party can be hectic, especially when it’s on a busy holiday. But you don’t have to sacrifice the entire weekend to pull it off.

With a little planning, the whole thing can be a breeze, involving just a couple of chores a day. The secret is making a good list.

The first thing I do when I’m planning a party is write out the menu and put it in a spot where it’s easy to refer to, usually on the fridge door.

Your goal should be to do as much as possible before the party.

To make the process more manageable, spread the preparation over two or three days. Begin by looking at the recipes to see what can be done ahead, then write it out: three days before, two days before, up to the day of the party.

First, plan to do all of your shopping two or three days ahead. This gives you plenty of time to check your staples, put all the groceries away and clean the vegetables and store them in the fridge to crisp. You even have time to get rid of all those plastic bags.

Next, look over your recipes and see what you can prepare ahead.

Some things should be done in advance because they’ll store well or even improve with time. The Corn and Black Bean Salad is a good example. It tastes better the second and even third day because the flavors have a chance to meld. Just make sure it is tightly covered and refrigerated the whole time.

Other things are done in advance because you don’t want to bother doing them at the last minute. I always fry the tortilla chips a day ahead because I don’t like the smell of frying in the house on the day of the party. Store the fried chips in a brown paper bag so they will stay crisp.

On the other hand, some things must be done at the last minute. The Chipotle Guacamole for the stuffed mushrooms will discolor if you fix it the day before. You can safely prepare it the morning of the party as long as you seal it very tightly--that and the acidity from the lemon juice will keep it a bright green.

And you wouldn’t want to heat the Queso Fundido too far in advance because the cheese will harden if it cools. Do that at the very last minute--five minutes before you’re ready to begin to serve it.

Once the party begins, don’t be shy about asking people to help. Most people are willing to pitch in and make the drinks or man the grill.

After guests begin their drinks and appetizers, the steak can be put on the grill. Flank steak is best cooked to rare or medium rare; longer cooking will toughen the meat. Use tongs to turn the meat; a fork will poke holes in the steak and allow the juices to escape. Let the steak stand 10 minutes before carving to allow the juices to settle so you will not lose them during slicing. One of the secrets of a tender flank steak is to slice it diagonally across the grain into very thin slices.

Warm the tortillas on the grill to really give them a smoky flavor. Ask someone at the party to handle this so you won’t be tied up at the grill. Serve the salsa and the tray of prepared vegetables along with the tortillas and flank steak.

When it’s time for dessert, put scoops of vanilla ice cream in an iced bowl and serve the toasted pound cake and macerated fruit alongside.

One more item for your list: Don’t forget to sit back and enjoy the fireworks.


Combine sugar and water in saucepan and bring to boil. Cook until clear, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and cool. Cover syrup and chill 1 hour or until ready to use.


Cut off 6-pound piece of watermelon and, using melon scoop, form melon balls. Place in covered container and chill until party time.


Cut fruit from remaining rind and puree. You should have about 8 cups puree. Cover and chill 1 hour or until party time.


To make drinks, fill each glass 2/3 full with watermelon puree, 2 tablespoons simple syrup or to taste, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 shot tequila, if desired. Add a few ice cubes and top off glass with club soda. Stir in several watermelon balls.