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Vegetarian on the Inside

July 26, 2011

By Alix Hui
I crashed a wedding last weekend.  I mean, it was totally on accident but there’s no denying that it happened.  My dear friend Max was due to wed the woman of his dreams (as a former Spanish literature major he fell for the cheesiest pickup line ever – “So what’s your favorite Spanish verb conjugation?”) at the Seattle Zoo at 7 pm sharp.
I of course show up at the gates all of two minutes before 7 and fall in behind a pack of people wearing coats and ties to the Zoo.  Since I know that I will only know a handful of individuals at this wedding, I decide that I should make some friends.  I ended up talking to an elderly couple that was friends with the bride’s family in Southern California.  So far all of this makes sense.  They ask me for stories about the groom back when we were in college together and I tell them all sorts of embellished tales of debauchery.  We stroll by the wolf enclosure and take pictures together by the bear pen.
The open bar was serving drinks and waiters were already sidling up to people with offers of appetizers.  This seemed a little out of order to me but not something I would put past Max.  If anyone was going to get married with friends standing around with glasses of microbrew, it was Max.  So I cruise around, sip on a drink, accept offers of caprese sticks and a tiny bowl of watermelon soup.  A wonderful little bowl of watermelon soup.  Around this time I begin to look for my seating assignment (because my arms are too full of coat, purse, present, food and drink to actually consume said food and drink).
My name is nowhere to be found.  My heart sinks.  How did Max forget about me?  I had just spoken to him on the phone that morning.  And then the paranoia sets in.  Why are all these people eyeing me?  And why do they all have bad highlight jobs?  It occurred to me about now that nobody here looks anything like the outdoorsy/gradschoolish/rock-climber/ultra-marathoner friends that I know Max and his bride hang out with.  I return to the seat assignment table and cannot find the names of the three other people I know are attending the wedding.
How many events can there be afterhours at the Zoo?  Well, son, I’ll tell you: at least seven.  I glance guiltily at what turns out to be the Bixby/Carnahan rehearsal dinner and dash off past the bears and the wolves to the front gates to be redirected to Max’s wedding out by the animatronic dinosaurs.  I arrive for the last lines of a Robert Frost poem and the vows.  The animals celebrate.  Whew.
What follows is a recipe for my stab at the watermelon soup served at the Bixby/Carnahan rehearsal dinner (congrats to the happy couple!), perfect food for the wrathful gods of July.  It’s cooling and light but substantial enough for an evening meal.  Unlike tomato gazpacho, the watermelon provides the structure rather than bread so, other than the olive oil, this soup is pure fruit and vegetable, ALL of which are locally in season right now.  The recipe below has many tildas because even watermelon soup is still soup and therefore an inexact science.  Throw in however much or little of the ingredients you have, no reason to be shy.  It will taste great, I promise.  My wise friend Sol, one of the best cooks in town, explained to me once that the key to good gazpacho is to allow each ingredient maintain its separate texture.  So while you want to puree the bulk of the soup, hold off and dice a handful of each of the main ingredients.  They function like chocolate chips in your cookie.
Watermelon Gazpacho (for weddings and everyday)
4-6 regular servings or up to a dozen aperitifs
Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes active
1 habanero chile, preferably red (optional)
~ 4 cups seedless watermelon (about 1½ lbs), 2 cups diced and 2 cups roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove, mashed
~ 2 lbs tomatoes, cored, seeded and peeled if you have the patience for it (drop whole into boiling water for about 30 seconds and then run under cold water, then peel), 1 cup diced, the rest roughly chopped
~2 lbs cucumbers, peeled and seeded, 1 cup diced, the rest roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
¼ cup sherry vinegar or rice wine vinegar
~2  Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
~ ½ cup chopped celery
2 radishes, minced
salt and pepper
If you’re going with the spicy version, roast the habanero chile either over a gas flame or under a broiler, turning regularly, until charred all over.  Place in a bowl with a plate on top of it for five minutes and then use a paper towel to rub off the skin.  Remove the stem and seeds.  Blanch your tomatoes and peel, core, and seed them.  Save whatever juices you can.
Place the roughly chopped watermelon, garlic, and habanero chili if you’re using it, in a blender or food processer and puree, several seconds.  Add the roughly chopped tomatoes, cucumber, and celery and puree again though not so long as to completely pulpify (a word no?) the celery.  You want some texture.  Place all of this in a bowl.  Stir in the diced watermelon, tomatoes, and most but not all of the cucumber as well the sherry vinegar, 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, and salt to taste.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  This soup can actually be prepared up to a day ahead and will last an additional day or so.  When serving, garnish with the radishes and remaining cucumber and a drizzle of olive oil.
Alix Hui is an Assistant Professor of History at Mississippi State University.  She can be contacted at

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