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Heavenly Horchata

Easy to make and refreshing, Mexican drink proves a favorite in spring and summer

Refreshing and slightly sweet, horchata is a popular spring and summertime sip in Mexico.

Made from rice and water, it’s served over ice, sweetened with sugar and scented with vanilla and ground cinnamon.

It’s also super-easy to make.

No actual cooking is required, unless you toast the grains of rice – and that’s optional. But doing so does add a toasty flavor to the dairy-free beverage.

Plant-based milks – made from grains, seeds and nuts – have been consumed around the world for centuries. Horchata traces its roots to Spain and ancient Egypt, where it was made from tigernuts, which are actually small tubers. Other early recipes used ground melon and squash seeds.

Spanish colonists brought the beverage to Mexico and Central and South America. Some five centuries later, there are all kinds of regional as well as modern, gourmet and nontraditional variations. Some use almonds, almond extract, almond flour, sesame seeds, barley, nutmeg or cardamom.

Almonds can help make the liquid a little thicker and creamier, but they’re often expensive. They’re the main ingredient in the version by Mexican food expert and chef Rick Bayless.

Milk or condensed milk also lends a more velvety texture, but that sort of feels like cheating – even if Martha Stewart uses both in one of her recipes. After all, authentic horchata is, as mentioned above, non-dairy.

On Saveur.com, Fany Gerson, author of “My Sweet Mexico” and “Paletas,” adds 1 pound of fresh apricots or 2 cups of mixed berries to a couple of otherwise basic recipes for fruit-flavored rice milk.

The liquid could also be enhanced with coconut, cashews, pecans, macademia nuts, hazelnuts, oats or your own combination.

When it comes to rice, long-grain white is most authentic for Mexican-style horchata. Long-grain brown rice, especially when toasted, offers a certain nuttiness and intensified rice flavor.

Sweeten the mixture with maple syrup, honey, agave, dates or sugar.

And, if you’re having a party for Cinco de Mayo next week, make a big pitcher and spike it with rum.

Horchata

From “Quench” by Ashley English

1 cup long-grain brown rice

4 cups water

1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Ice, to serve

Place the rice, water and cinnamon stick into a food processor or blender. Pulse until the rice grains have broken down a bit. Transfer the mixture to a glass or ceramic bowl. Cover with a plate or lid, and leave at room temperature for 4 hours (or overnight). Return the mixture to the food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve or fine cheesecloth set over a bowl. Compost the solids. (Or, feed them to your backyard chickens.) Transfer the strained-off liquid to a pitcher. Add the sugar and ground cinnamon; whisk until fully combined. Refrigerate the horchata until well chilled. Serve in individual glasses over ice. Use within 2 to 3 days.

Yield: 4 cups


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