Watermelon-Cucumber Cooler

Yield: 8 servings

Cheetie Kumar adds a tangy rim of toasted spices to this refreshing summer cocktail


Chef’s notes: “I can’t get enough of watermelon in the summer, and I made this by the pitcherful through the tough summer of 2020. It works equally well with all the clear spirits—I’m partial to rum—or no booze at all.”


  • For the syrups

    • 3 cups seedless watermelon chunks

    • 3 tbsp. plus 4 tsp. granulated sugar, divided

    • 2 cucumbers, peeled and roughly chopped

  • For the glass rims

    • 2 tsp. whole cumin seeds

    • 5 or 6 whole black peppercorns

    • ¼ cup kosher salt

  • For each cocktail

    • ¾ oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice

    • 1¾ oz. silver rum, gin, or vodka (if desired)

    • 1½ oz. soda water (Topo Chico works great)

    • Mint sprigs, for garnish

    • Cucumber slices, for garnish

    • Lime leaves, for garnish


  1. Make the syrups: In a blender, puree watermelon and strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard pulp. Return juice to blender and whiz with 3 tbsp. sugar to dissolve. Repeat with cucumber and 4 tsp. sugar and set aside. This makes enough of each syrup for 8 cocktails (and can easily be doubled).

  2. Toast spices for the rims: Heat a small dry skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and peppercorns and cook, shaking the pan, until crackling and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and cool before grinding with spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Stir in kosher salt and set aside.

  3. To serve: Rub rim of each glass (Kumar likes an 11 oz. collins or double rocks glass) with a lime wedge and dip in spice mixture to coat rim. Drop in a few ice cubes. For each cocktail, in a shaker add 2 oz. watermelon syrup, 1 oz. cucumber syrup, lime juice, a pinch of salt and grind of pepper, and the booze (if using). Add plenty of ice, shake well, and strain into prepared glass. Stir in about 1½ oz. of soda (more if omitting alcohol). Garnish with mint, cucumber, and lime leaf.