Three melon soup, a real showstopper, is as much fun to look at as it is refreshing to eat. The key, though, is to start with the ripest and most fragrant fruits available. In the case of cantaloupes and honeydews, the first move is to smell the stem end to make sure it smells strongly of melon. With watermelon, begin by searching for a large yellow spot on the outside — a sign that the melon ripened for a good long time in the sun. (Watermelons don't rotate as they ripen; the yellow spot marks the part never exposed to the sun. The larger the spot, the longer it ripened.)
Given its natural sweetness, melon cries out for an acidic counterpoint. Citrus is the best choice. Here we use orange, lemon and lime, one for each of the three melons — although lemon or lime will work for the group of them if you'd prefer not to buy all three types. Also, the amount of citrus prescribed is given as a range because an individual melon may need more or less acid depending on its sweetness. Start with the smallest amount, adding more until it's no longer flat.
This soup's blazing good looks — a kaleidoscope of red, yellow and green — result from the fact that each of the three purees keeps to itself. And you don't need to be a professional food stylist to pull off this trick — just spoon the purees into separate parts of the bowl.
I offer this recipe in two versions: plain or fancy. The former is garnished with sour cream or yogurt, strawberries and mint. The latter boasts a savory garnish: salty cheese, tortilla strips and sliced chiles. All of the purees can be prepared several days ahead of time, and you can double or triple the recipe with no problem, which makes it a perfect candidate for a large backyard party.
Three melon soup
Start to finish: 3 hours, 50 minutes (50 active)
3 cups coarsely chopped honeydew melon, plus 1/2 cup small cubes honeydew melon
2 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 cups coarsely chopped seedless watermelon, plus 1/2 cup small cubes watermelon
2 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups coarsely chopped cantaloupe melon, plus 1/2 cup small cubes cantaloupe melon
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 cup chopped strawberries
1/4 cup sour cream
Fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup crushed tortilla chips
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 small serrano, sliced thin crosswise
In a blender combine the coarsely chopped honeydew with 2 tablespoons of the lime juice and blend until finely pureed. Taste and add more lime juice if necessary. Transfer to a bowl, rinse out the blender and add the coarsely chopped watermelon and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Blend until finely pureed; taste and add more lemon juice if necessary. Transfer to a bowl, rinse out the blender and add the coarsely chopped cantaloupe, orange juice and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Blend until finely pureed; taste and add more lemon juice if necessary. Transfer to a bowl. Chill all three melon purees for at least 3 hours.
To serve: Remove the purees from the refrigerator and stir each one (the water in the melon will separate out as it sits). Spoon or pour equal amounts of each puree into each of four bowls and garnish with either the traditional or savory garnishes.
Nutritional information: 194 calories; 30 calories from fat; 3 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 56 mg sodium; 41 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 35 g sugar; 4 g protein.
Sara Moulton is host of public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals." She was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows, including "Cooking Live." Her latest cookbook is "HomeCooking 101."