Chili-Ginger Granita with Watermelon and Pistachios

Our summertime preferences for sweets run to the light and refreshing, as versus the dense and sensual.  I want to rise from the table and feel as though I’ve beaten the heat and humidity, not stoked the furnace, which makes Chili-Ginger Granita with Watermelon and Pistachios the ideal dessert after a meal of grilled lamb and eggplant, or just a treat to dull the edge of a blistering afternoon.

If you’re unfamiliar with granita, think of it as the crunchy version of sorbet.  Granita’s gravelly texture would seem to make it the coarse country cousin of sorbet, yet somehow it manages a rude elegance, like handmade orecchiette, that sorbet can’t quite touch.  Aside from the fact that sorbet often contains egg white, and granita does not, the primary distinction between the two is that sorbet is made in an ice cream machine.  The machine churns as the sorbet mixture freezes, breaking the ice crystals into smaller and smaller pieces, resulting in a dense, even texture.  Granita predates the ice cream machine. The basic method begins with a frozen block of fruit flavored ice, then scraping it apart with a fork.   Surprisingly, this is quite easy.  A subtler approach is to stir up the granita a few times during the process of freezing, then scraping this somewhat looser product after it has frozen completely.  We tried both.  Both work.  The freezer interruptus method results in finer crystals.*  Your call.

In the ingredients photo you’ll notice the tiny red scimitar of a Thai bird pepper.  If you layer the dessert as we did there’s an interesting effect as you begin at the top and work your way down to the bottom of the glass–things get progressively colder on the tongue and hotter on the palate, especially in the aftertaste. We loved it.  Nuts and watermelon do modulate the heat, but if  you prefer your frozen desserts with a cooler culinary profile, omit the bird pepper, in which case it becomes a Ginger-Lime Granita.  You could even throw a little chopped cilantro into the mix.  Either way will be refreshing and you’ll find yourself trying to spoon up (or just slurping) what’s left in the bottom of the glass.  The recipe makes more granita than you need to serve four, so you can increase the watermelon and serve more, use leftover granita with honeydew the next night, or integrate it into a killer frozen cocktail with tequila or rum.  Whichever method you choose, if you do make it this weekend, give a thought to all the bikers riding out to the tip of Provincetown in the PanMass Challenge.  It begins tomorrow at 5:30 a.m. Enjoy.  Ken

*The photographer likes chunkier, bigger crystals.

Chili-Ginger Granita with Watermelon and Pistachios-2

Chili-Ginger Granita with Watermelon and Pistachios

Makes 4 servings, with lots of leftover granita


  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons, chopped fresh ginger
  • 1 chili pepper, finely chopped, optional
  • Grated zest of 1 lime
  • ¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice, (about 4 large limes)
  • 2-pound wedge watermelon (4 cups diced)
  • 2 tablespoons torn mint leaves + additional for garnish
  • 4 teaspoons finely chopped toasted pistachios


  1. Combine  the sugar, water, chili and ginger in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium heat.  Simmer 5 minutes, remove from the heat.  Cool. Strain into a bowl.   Stir in the lime zest and juice.  Pour into a flat container that will hold the mixture 1-inch high and fit into your freezer.  I had to use 2 containers.  Freeze for 2 hours.  Stir every 30 minutes to form a slush.
  2. Cut the melon into ¾-inch cubes.  Put in a bowl and toss with the mint.  You should have 4 cups.
  3. To serve, put a half cup of granita in a glass, add a cup of watermelon, sprinke with a teaspoon of pistachios and top with a small spoonful of granita.

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Jody Notes:  

I asked our pastry chef, Jonathan Posiko, to duplicate an intermezzo dish for our wine BBQ this year that we enjoyed many times in Puglia last summer – large pieces of watermelon in a bowl of  ice cubes.  He took it up a notch and served a tiny dice of watermelon on top of a prosecco granita.  I stole his idea for this post. 

This granita is very intense.  I wanted it that way to dance well with the watery watermelon.  If you want it to be a little lighter, just add a half a cup of water.

Click on something to see it with a little more detail.  Left and right arrow keys will move you through the photos.

C’mon, leave a comment.  Get your two-cents in.

51 thoughts

  1. This looks wonderful! I love granitas, and considering the weather we are currently having, I might just make yet another one! (the only problem here is finding decent limes…)

    • Thank you, Darya. Perfect for the weather. I didn’t know that about limes and France. I just assumed you had access to all of this exotic North African produce that we never see. Live and learn. Ken

      • Well, limes are available at any supermarket, but they are usually shipped from Brazil or South Africa, and it is almost impossible to get organic or non-sprayed limes at all. I just don’t feel too comfortable buying the stuff, even if I occasionally do!

    • Thanks, Torie. Any melted leftover can also be refrozen, or you can take the lazy man’s approach and simply throw it into a bowl with some watermelon and refrigerate it for a great smoothie later on. Ken

  2. I love how simple this is to make, yet not at all boring with the ginger and lime and chili. Refreshing! Thanks for a great recipe and great photos, too!

  3. I am hosting my bookclub this weekend at my house in Gloucester, MA, we are having it in my Haiti hut in the backyard overlooking the water, this will be PERFECT for dessert (especially since I decided to do an eggplant dish from the Jerusalem cookbook), it looks so refreshing but with a little bite, plus the crunch from the pistachios, will make a triple batch to have leftovers for that killer frozen cocktail you mentioned, will use either rum or tequila or vodka…YUM! Thanks, love your blog ALMOST as much as your restaurant(s).

      • This dessert was the hit of my bookclub dinner party, it was seriously amazing! Everyone loved it and luckily I tripled the recipe, so had plenty leftover to make drinks with, we ended up using vodka and it was sublime. Glad the PMC went well, but you would both be welcome anytime. I took a few pics to send you, but doesn’t look like I can post them here.

      • Sorry. One of the drawbacks of blogging, at least in WP, is that you can’t post pictures in the comments. However, if you happened to post them in, say, Flickr, you can post the link. Don’t, however, try posting more than a single link or the spam filter might weed you out. Ken

  4. This looks simply stunning! I am a sucker for anything watermelon, especially paired with ‘light’ flavours like lime or rosewater, so though it’s winter here I’d like to try this soon. Thanks for a great recipe and idea!

  5. Great post! I like the idea of combining those ingredients. Personally I’ve never made a granita, always been put off by the fact that you have to manually scrape the ice. As you say it’s not that hard I think I will have a go, maybe I will try the smaller crystals version :)

    • Unless you’re above the Arctic Circle, or you have a truly impressive freezer, I don’t think you’ll have any problem with this. Both size crystals are easy. One tip – scrape over the sink. If you scrape over the floor and a fragment escapes you’re going to have a sticky floor. Ken

  6. I know you two are out there working for Cancer research. Great big Kudos to you both. I have eight people counting on this for tonight. Thanks for the just-in-time recipe! It also looks like a perfect reward at the end of a Meatless Monday!

    • Forgive me for replying when you still haven’t. Or don’t. I have to tell you I was the king of the dinner table last night when we brought this next door for dessert. Okay Ken, queen. Whatever. I wish I recorded the comments, sighs, and general awe this dish inspired. People were blown away with the range of flavors and the ability of each to stand out among the many. They began to speak in whispers. When I told our frineds where the recipe came from three people whipped out their Iphones, two their pens. One immediately wrote to a neighbor-friend-food blogger in Atlanta. I told them The Garum Factory is my Friday morning newspaper and weekend assignment. At least two of them signed up before we cleared the dishes. Congrats on the presumed finish and may there be well earned massages in your future . Us

    • Chip and Keith–You guys are too cool. The usual monthly check for PR and marketing is in the mail. Good job. This past weekend was by turns fun, inspiring, exhausting and wonderful. Volunteers and riders alike – all heroes. I did find out something about myself on Sunday: I don’t like getting up at 3:45. I walked around the rest of the day trying to remember how the buttons on my camera worked. Great about the sorbet–sounds like you guys are setting the bar really high. Careful, no one will want to eat with you. :-) Ken

  7. This sounds wonderful, Jody. The idea of a granita with a bit of a spicy bite is as good sounding as it would be unexpected. Served with watermelon and you’ve got the perfect summertime dessert. Thanks for sharing your recipe with us.

    • They’re all simple (or should be, that’s the point). It’s so easy that after you’ve done it once you start asking yourself why you haven’t done it before. Give one a try. Ken

      • Don’t forget it also plays well with vodka! ;)

        I’ve made this two more times at the request of family and friends, huge hit every time and I make plenty to have leftovers…this is a dish I will make over and over again, at least while the warm weather is here!

      • Yes, you were close. Well, I had to add another comment as I made this again for a cookout on Saturday, it was, once again, the hit of the party with everyone asking me for the recipe (I gave you 100% credit and told everyone about your blog, I expect you’ll have lots of new visitors today as there was about 40 people at the party!) and marveling at it being the most unusual combination that they’d ever eaten in a dessert, which was a huge compliment as they kept going back for more and more. I’m having a big party this Saturday for the Gloucester Schooner Festival’s Parade of Lights and am definitely going to make multiple batches!! The best part about the last batch was that the watermelon was from my CSA (New Entry Sustainable Farming) so it was local and organic, the bad part was that it had seeds, so that was challenging, but worth it anyway! Thanks again for my favorite new go-to recipe.

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