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In the Kitchen With Ricky: Agua fresca is a refreshing non-alcohol libation for Cinco de Mayo

UPDATED: Mon., May 9, 2022

By Ricky Webster For The Spokesman-Review

Thursday is Cinco de Mayo, and I’m sure we are all looking forward to celebrating at our favorite Mexican restaurant or taqueria with a plate of tacos or enchiladas and a margarita. This week, I want to pay tribute to the rich culture, cuisine and heritage that Mexico brings to the U.S. melting pot by showcasing an easy recipe with a rich history in Mexican culture.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates the anniversary of the victory of Mexican troops over French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. This was a very significant morale boost, as a team of indigenous warriors and Mexican soldiers defeated what was considered to be the strongest military force at the time.

This victory, however, was not the most significant in the long term and is often confused with Mexico’s Independence Day (Sept. 16), which in fact is Mexico’s most important holiday and the celebration of when Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1810. The truth is that Cinco de Mayo is more popular here than in Mexico.

But it has become a day where we celebrate and pay honor to Mexico. Cinco de Mayo has been celebrated on the West Coast and mainly in California from as early as 1863 (the year after the initial fight in the Battle of Puebla) but gained popularity in the 1980s when alcohol advertising campaigns started to capitalize on the celebration.

Today, Cinco de Mayo is right up there with the Super Bowl as one of the biggest celebrations for alcohol consumption. This non-alcohol agua fresca can easily be incorporated into your repertoire during the warm months ahead. It also is one that can help make use of fruit that needs to be used up or has been sitting a while in a crisper.

Agua fresca translates to “fresh water” and is a widespread beverage that can be found in restaurants and juice bars and sold by street vendors and in convenient stores throughout Mexico. You may be familiar with a few different types of common agua frescas, the most common being horchata (a rice milk beverage with cinnamon).

The beverage is believed to have existed before the pre-Columbian era and is a bit of a melting pot of its own, having roots in Africa, Spain and India – tamarind (tamarindo) from Africa, rice (horchata) from Spain and hibiscus (Jamaica) from Africa, with even deeper roots in India, where it’s consumed as a tea.

Agua frescas made from these three items tend to be the most widespread versions of this beverage. It’s said that Aztecs would travel to what’s now known as Mexico City to buy the fruits needed for their agua frescas and that they would add ice from dormant volcanoes to serve this drink ice cold.

In this recipe, I’m choosing to focus on agua fresca made with fruit, as they are the easiest and quickest to produce at home, but in Mexico it’s not uncommon to use everything from seasonally available fruit, flowers and grains to seeds and nuts. I encourage you to use whatever you have or flavors that you like.

In the accompanying photos, I made three flavors – pineapple, cucumber mint and strawberry – but get creative and have fun with your agua fresca at home. The process is simple and requires few ingredients, but these agua frescas turn out to be a deliciously refreshing beverage that will be adored by kids and adults alike.

Agua Fresca

1 cup chopped fruit, your choice

1¼ cups water

2 teaspoons sugar

1 lime juiced

Place your fruit, water, sugar and lime juice in a blender, or you can use a hand blender like I did. Blend the mixture until it is completely smooth.

Strain the fruit mixture through a mesh strainer into a pitcher or a separate container. Taste to see if you’d any additional sugar or acid and adjust.

Place into a fridge and chill for at least an hour, as it helps the flavor to deepen. Serve over ice with additional pieces of fruit as a garnish or with a slice of lime.

Yield: 2 servings

Local award-winning chef Ricky Webster, owner of Rind and Wheat and the new Morsel, can be reached at ricky@rindandwheat.com. Follow Webster on Instagram @rickycaker.

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