Aguas Frescas: Horchata, Part 1

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I was doing some research into aguas frescas, after receiving a drink recipe ManekiNeko_horchata_jarfrom Chow.com that incorporated horchata. After doing probably too much research, I felt like I needed to make two entries: one on horchata one on the other aguas frescas.

Even though I had visited Mexico before, and had even been served a hibiscus flower punch at a friend’s party, my first experience with “making” aguas frescas was while teaching Exploratory Spanish several years ago.

I came up with this idea of having my students sample Mexican sweets and candies as cultural enrichment.  I went to the Buford Highway Farmers Market and was amazed at the variety.  Along with sweet breads, cookies, cajeta and sticky chili tamarind treats, I thought I would serve some aguas frescas.  Instead of making them from scratch, I found some convenient Klass dried drink mix packets and decided to use those.

When I prepared the powdered horchata drink for my first group of students, I asked one of my Mexican students to taste it and tell me what she thought.  She took a sip and made a face.  Then, she said, “I think you are supposed to add sugar to it.” DUH! But even after adding sugar, I realized that the horchata powder would quickly sink to the bottom.  If you shook it up and took a sip, you got a mouthful of grit.

I think I tried a liquid concentrate after that, but after having tasted horchata at my local taqueria, I realized that mixes would always be a poor substitute.  There’s supposedly a bottled version made by Rose’s Horchata that is the real thing – if I find it, I may try it.  Also, I just read that the people who make Rice Dream have added a horchata flavor. I’m all about the quick fix.

But, today I received in my Chow mail a recipe for a drink called “Squirrel Horchata”.  Briefly, I wondered about the powdered squirrel, but I quickly found that it was a cocktail made with horchata, dark rum, and Frangelico liqueur (a hazelnut liqueur). From there I quickly found some other agua fresca based drinks and cocktails.  But, today, we will only talk about horchata.

Horchata or orxata is the name for several kinds of traditional beverages, made of ground almonds, sesame seeds, rice, barley or tigernuts (chufas). Horchata, the Spanish way, using chufa is very different from Mexican horchata. Chufa, also called tigernuts can be ordered online. I remembered Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods trying it in Spain, and he did not like it at all.  Here is a video of his experience drinking Spanish Horchata.

Here is an article that features Salvadoran horchata, made with calabash, or morro, seeds.  It also talks about other horchatas.

First of all, here is a basic recipe for horchata (from the Food Network):

* 1 cup long grain white rice
* 2 cups skinless almonds
* 1-inch piece cinnamon bark
* 8 cups water
* 1/2 cup sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
* Ice cubes

Directions

Wash and drain the rice. Using a spice grinder (an electric coffee grinder works well too), grind the rice until fine; combine with the almonds and cinnamon bark. Add 3 1/2 cups water and let sit overnight, covered. Blend rice mixture until smooth using a blender. Add 2 1/2 cups of water and continue blending. Add sugar and vanilla extract. Strain horchata into a bowl first using a metal strainer and then a double layer of cheesecloth; finish with up to an additional 2 cups of water until it achieves a milky consistency. Enjoy over ice.

There are all sorts of variations.  Here are some of the recipes I have found:

-From Imbibe magazine, this horchata adds lime zest.
-From MexGrocer.com, a variety of agua fresca recipes includes a horchata made with skim milk.
Almond Horchata – no rice, just almonds.
-From Ingrid Hoffman, this one adds almond extract.
Brown Jasmine Rice Horchata – someone’s trying to make it healthy!
Indian Horchata with brown basmati rice and cardamom pods.
Horchata de Lima (Peru).
Horchata with Chocolate and Pumpkin Seeds from Saveur magazine
Horchata Rosa– the “rosa” refers to food coloring, not the crushed roses I was hoping to find.
White and Wild Rice Horchata from Garrett’s Table. “To make it, simply substitute 1/4 c. white rice for wild rice in the original recipe.”
-From the L.A.Times, horchata with toasted pecans and cantaloupe.
Barley Horchata – hmmmm.  AKA Horchata de Cebada (Barley).
Horchata de Avena (oatmeal) – at the bottom of the page. A picture of it is at the top.
Horchata de Venezuela – made with sesame seeds.

For a few minutes, I decided to do a search on Bubble Tea (boba tea) made with horchata.  Why not?  This boba tea recipe calls for rice milk anyway, why not substitute that with horchata?  There is also a chocolate version.

Basic Bubble Tea:
1 cup brewed black or green tea or espresso
7 to 8 ice cubes
1 cup rice milk or almond milk
sugar to taste
1/2 cup tapioca pearls

Instructions: Pour everything into a Martini shaker and shake for a few seconds. Pour into a large glass. Use this as a base and add anything you want to it such as nondairy cream, ground almond, or fruit juice.

You can make a chocolate almond variation by omitting the tapioca pearls and adding 2 tablespoons cocoa powder and 2 tablespoons ground almonds.

Horchata Chai sounds good, too!

-Variations on horchata at this website include “plain”, chocolate, and strawberry.
Strawberry Horchata from the California Strawberry Commission.
Peach Horchata from the Food Network.
This recipe uses cartons of organic vanilla rice milk and organic almond milk.
Cantaloupe Horchata uses the seeds of the melon instead of rice and almonds.
Coconut Horchata – really just fresh coconut, milk and sugar.
Yerba Mate and Horchata – okay… I was actually looking for green tea and horchata.

While searching, I also found horchata used in various dessert recipes:
Horchata Cupcakes
Frozen Horchata dessert
Horchata ice cream
Horchata ice cream With Canela and Pecans
Horchata Pudding
Cinnamon Horchata Cookies – second recipe down
Tonka Bean and Cinnamon Horchata Sherbet

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