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TIP OF THE DAY: Agua Fresca, The Latin American Cooler

lychee-cooler-230

A lychee agua fresca, or cooler. Photo
courtesy Melissas.com.

 

For summer entertaining, try a menu of aguas frescas.

In Spanish, agua fresca means fresh water. In culinary terms, it refers to a variety of refreshing cold drinks that are sold by street vendors and at cafés throughout Latin America. They’re also available bottled in food stores, and are made from scratch at home.

A traditional agua fresca is an infused, sweetened water, flavored with fruits and/or vegetables—often a more complex layering of flavors than lemonade and limeade. It is nonalcoholic and noncarbonated—in the U.S., it is called a cooler.

The recipes can include a combination of fruits or veggies, flowers, herbs and/or spices, cereals, seeds, even almond flour. Agua de horchata, a very popular recipe, is made of ground raw rice spiced with cinnamon.

Other popular flavors include:

  • Fruits: banana, cantaloupe, guava, mango, orange, papaya, passionfruit, pineapple, strawberry, watermelon
  • Sour fruits: cucumber, lemon, lime, tamarind
  • Flowers and herbs: hibiscus, sorrel
  • Grains, nuts and seeds: alfalfa, almond flour, barley, chía (often blended with vegetables), oats, rice
  •  

    Here are some recipes to start you off:

    RECIPE: MANGO OR WATERMELON AGUA FRESCA

    Ingredients

  • Very ripe mango or seedless watermelon
  • Water
  • Sugar, agave or other sweetener
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Optional garnish: lime wedge, berries or other fruit
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PURÉE equal parts mango/watermelon and water. ADD sweetener and lime juice to taste.

    2. CHILL and serve over ice with optional garnish.

     

    RECIPE: PINEAPPLE AGUA FRESCA

    Ingredients

  • Ripe pineapple
  • Coconut water
  • Sugar, agave or other sweetener
  • Chopped lemongrass
  • Optional garnish: lemongrass stalk
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PEEL and core pineapple(s). Purée equal parts pineapple and coconut water, with lemongrass to taste. Add sweetener to taste.

    2. CHILL and serve over ice with optional garnish.

    RECIPE: LYCHEE AGUA FRESCA

    Ingredients

  • Lychees
  • Water
  • Sugar, agave or other sweetener
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Optional garnish: whole lychee
  •  
    Preparation

     

    watermelon-cooler-230

    Watermelon agua fresca, a watermelon cooler. Photo courtesy Melissas.com.

     
    1. REMOVE seed from lychees. Purée lychee fruit. Strain and add water. Add sweetener and lime juice to taste.

    2. CHILL and serve over ice with optional garnish.
     
    AGUA DE HORCHATA

    Horchata (pronounced or-CHA-tah) is a drink that was introduced to the Caribbean and Latin America via Spain, and different versions were created in almost every country. But the drink has its origin in ancient Egypt.

    Chufa, or tiger nut (Cyperaceae cyperus esculentus) is one of the earliest domesticated crops and was widely grown in Egypt and Sudan. They are not nuts per se, but pea-size, tuberous roots of a plant of the sedge family. The crop was brought to Spain during the rein of the Moorish kings (700 B.C.E. to 1200 C.E.)

    In Mexico, rice became the base of choice. If you’re curious about a drink made of ground raw rice, look in a Latin market for bottled horchata, or make your own with this recipe:

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice, rinsed
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
  • 8 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon, preferably Mexican, for garnish
  • Optional garnish: cinnamon stick
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the rice and cinnamon stick in a blender with 4 cups of water; pulse to coarsely grind. Transfer to a large bowl and add another 4 cups water. Soak at room temperature for 3 hours.

    2. PURÉE the rice mixture in a blender in batches, until smooth. Strain through cheesecloth or a fine sieve into a pitcher. Mix in the sugar; chill.

    3. TO SERVE: Stir the horchata well and pour into ice-filled glasses. Garnish with a dusting of ground cinnamon and an optional cinnamon stick.

      





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