True, juicing the lemons can be a pain, but the process becomes very near painless if you start by softening the lemons in the microwave for 30 seconds. Then all you have to do is add sugar syrup — a mixture of sugar and water, heated until the sugar is dissolved — and some cold water. Done.
In short, it's hard to top fresh lemonade all by itself. Still, for those so inclined, there are plenty of ways to gild this lily. You can infuse the sugar syrup with fresh herbs. You can add seltzer. You can combine it with other fruit juices, including cranberry, apple and pomegranate. Or — and here is the heart of today's recipe — you can glorify it with flavour-packed ice cubes.
My favourite ice cubes for lemonade (or iced tea) are pureed fruit cubes. Almost any fruit will work. Just puree it, pour the puree into ice cube trays and freeze them. The right tool for this job is a blender, which purees the fruit more completely than a food processor or an immersion blender. Of course, you can still use those other tools if they're the only ones you have at hand.
By the way, if you want to get all fancy, you're welcome to strain the puree before you freeze it, though the gain in smoothness will also mean a loss in fiber.
In celebration of the Fourth of July, we'll dress up our lemonade with three different kinds of cubes — watermelon, coconut and blueberry for red, white and blue. Holiday esthetics and electrifying flavour aside, this drink is almost absurdly healthy. Every glass contains a half-cup each of blueberries and watermelon.
By the way, I used to think watermelon was a loser, nutritionally — all sugar and no substance. I was wrong. Watermelon happens to be an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of A, as well as lycopene, potassium and magnesium. And calorie-wise, it's very modest. A full cup of diced watermelon clocks in at 46 calories.
There's no confusion about the virtue of blueberries, which are packed with antioxidants. They're also a good source of vitamin C and fiber. Finally, they team up beautifully with lemon juice.
Thinking of a bright white fruit with which to fill out my tri-colour team of ice cubes wasn't easy. Happily, during a rummage through the cupboard I stumbled upon a can of lite coconut milk. As everyone knows, fruit and coconut go together like fireworks and the Fourth of July.
One of the most appealing aspects of this libation is that its flavour mutates and deepens as the cubes melt slowly in the glass. I suggest giving the process a head start by letting the drink stand for a bit before serving, then encouraging your guests to take their time drinking. Tell them the effect will be like a kaleidoscope for the mouth.
RED, WHITE AND BLUE LEMONADE
Start to finish: 25 minutes, plus freezing
3 cups cubed seeded watermelon (the redder the better)
3 cups cleaned and rinsed fresh blueberries
3/4 cup well-stirred lite coconut milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1 cup fresh lemon juice
Fresh mint leaves, to garnish
In a blender, puree the watermelon until it becomes liquefied. Pour the watermelon liquid into ice cube trays (you should have enough liquid for twelve 2-tablespoon cubes). Rinse out the blender, add the blueberries and puree until the mixture is smooth. Transfer the blueberry puree to another ice cube tray. In a third tray, divide the coconut milk between 6 cubes.
Transfer all of the trays to the freezer and freeze until solid, preferably overnight.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool.
In a pitcher combine 1/2 cup of the sugar syrup with the lemon juice. Add 3 cups of cold water, then taste and add additional sugar syrup if desired. Chill until ready to serve.
To serve, place 2 watermelon cubes, 2 blueberry cubes and 1 coconut cube in each of 6 rocks glasses. Top the glasses with lemonade, then garnish with mint. Let sit for 10 or so minutes to allow the cubes to melt slightly and flavour the lemonade.
Nutrition information per serving: 150 calories; 20 calories from fat (13 per cent of total calories); 2 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 40 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 33 g sugar; 1 g protein; 10 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."