The Cowgirl Chef: All about aguas frescas and horchata

Posted Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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Agua fresca 101

Making agua fresca is as easy as chopping up fresh fruit and putting it in the blender. You may also strain the mixture through cheesecloth for a more pure “water.”

Some options:

• Melon plus herbs, such as basil or mint

• Papaya plus sugar, honey, agave or maple syrup

• Strawberry plus ginger

• Banana plus vanilla

• Mango plus lemon or lime

• Pineapple

• Peaches, apricots and other stone fruits

• Raspberries, cherries, blueberries

Pineapple-ginger agua fresca

Makes 4 servings

• Half of a pineapple, cut into pieces

• 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped

• Water, to taste

Put pineapple and ginger in the blender and puree until smooth. Add water to fill to the top, puree again and chill completely before serving.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 29 calories, trace fat, 7 grams carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 7 percent of calories from fat.

Honeydew and cucumber agua fresca

Makes 4 servings

• 1 honeydew melon

• 5-inch piece of English cucumber, plus additional pieces for garnish (optional)

• Half of one lime

• Water, to taste

1. Peel melon, remove seeds and cut into large chunks. Fill blender about two-thirds with melon.

2. Chop cucumber into a few small chunks (no need to peel) and add to blender.

3. Squeeze lime juice into blender and puree. Add as much water as you need to make the drink smooth and pourable, about 3 or 4 cups. Chill completely and serve with a cucumber stick garnish, if you’d like.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 116 calories, trace fat, 30 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, no cholesterol, 32 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 2 percent of calories from fat.

Cantaloupe and raspberry agua fresca

Makes 4 servings

• 1 ripe cantaloupe

• 3 ounces raspberries

• Water, to taste

• Sweetener, to taste (optional)

Peel cantaloupe, scoop out seeds and cut into large chunks. Fill about two-thirds of blender with melon. Add raspberries and fill rest of blender with water. Puree until smooth. If mixture is still too thick, add more water. Taste. You may need to add a sweetener — say 1/2 cup of sugar, honey or maple syrup — then blend and add more if needed. Chill thoroughly and serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 58 calories, trace fat, 14 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, no cholesterol, 12 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 7 percent of calories from fat.

Watermelon and mint agua fresca

Makes 4 servings

• 1 small seedless watermelon

• About 8 mint leaves

• Water, to taste

Peel watermelon and cut into large chunks. Add to blender to about two-thirds full, toss in mint and fill the rest of blender with water. Puree, then chill completely before serving.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 181 calories, 2 grams fat, 41 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, no cholesterol, 12 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 11 percent of calories from fat.

Horchata

Makes 6 servings

• 1/2 cup long- or short-grain rice (I used short)

• 1 cup raw almonds

• 1 cinnamon stick

• 6 cups water, to taste

• 2/3 cup sugar

• 1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Put rice into blender and process until it becomes a powder. Pour into large bowl, then add almonds, cinnamon stick and 4 cups water. Let sit overnight.

2. Pour mixture back into blender and blend until smooth. Add 2 cups water, sugar and vanilla, and blend again. Strain through cheesecloth set over a fine-mesh colander. Taste. If mixture is too thick, add a few more cups of water. Chill before serving.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 284 calories, 12 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, no cholesterol, 3 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 38 percent of calories from fat.

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

The first time I drank a horchata, I was in Mexico. The small, touristy town was a stopover visit while I was on a cruise, and it was dusty. And blazing hot.

I was on assignment. My friend, a photographer, was with me, and we decided to wander back into the alleyways, away from the souvenir shops selling T-shirts and gimme caps, to find something to eat. We stumbled upon a locals-only outdoor taco stand, and ate fresh guacamole underneath umbrellas and on plastic chairs and felt like it was the first authentic experience, culinary or otherwise, we’d had since we left Miami.

On the way back to the boat, we both bought horchatas from a corner store selling large beehive jugs of the infused waters. Big, tall palstic-foam cups of the milky white, sweet cold stuff — rice milk, it turns out, flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. I’ve forgotten many details of the trip, but that horchata I remember well.

Last month, I was in Spain and saw signs advertising horchata, but never had the chance to stop and try one (one of many good reasons to go back). But I made the Spain/New World connection then. Spain’s horchata, I learned, is made with tigernuts (or chufas, in Spanish), which are not nuts at all, but tubers that grow in abundance there. In Mexico and Latin America, horchata is usually made from rice, and sometimes almonds, too — not unlike a sweeter, slightly thicker almond milk.

No matter what horchata is made from — seeds, nuts or a combination — its purpose is the same: to quench one’s thirst when it’s hot outside.

Which it definitely does.

As do all of the other Latin American flavored waters, or aguas frescas, made from some combination of fruit and water, with herbs and sugar added if you want to get fancy. I’ve seen recipes made two ways: with pureed fruit and water, served on its own, or with the fruit puree strained through cheesecloth, leaving a clearer, crisper drink. I’d rather not toss out good fiber if I don’t have to, so for these recipes, I’ve left it in, and simply thinned out the liquid with added water.

What I like best about these drinks is that you really don’t need a recipe, even though I’ve written some as a guide. Taste as you go, and mix and match along the way. This time of year, fruit is so sweet that you don’t need added sugar.

Drink these as soon as they’re chilled so the goodness of fresh fruit isn’t lost. I’ve found they also make great ice pops. Just pour into molds and freeze. Or, as a friend of mine pointed out, any one of them is a great start for a summer cocktail. Cheers to that.

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of “Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent” (Running Press, $25). www.cowgirlchef.com; @cowgirlchef.

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