Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Aguas Frescas: beating the heat with a burst of fruits

Who could resist when standing before a huge glass jug, covered with condensation drops on its exterior and filled with a cool drink made of rice – horchata – or tamarind or hibiscus flower?

Moreover, how can one ignore that little tune that echoes in our memory, when the beverage vendor used a very large spoon to stir the mix, clanking on the jug’s side – and splashing some on us, causing us to thirst for it?

Probably no one can resist, much less during high summer temperatures.

“If you feel hot, have an horchata,” Angeles Hurtado tells customers at her mobile taco stand in east Tulsa. “I always have horchata available. It’s the best of the drinks.”

Hurtado’s recipe has an ingredient that others don’t have. “Time,” she says. “My horchata is traditional and modern. It has rice, cinnamon, milk, condensed milk, sugar and vanilla.” This cook and native of the Mexican state of Sinaloa says the rice should be boiled, “but not cooked, and prior to that it should soak for half an hour.” In addition, Hurtado said she makes a sort of syrup with the cinnamon sticks. “It is a tea that is used to mix the rice and the milk. If it ends up being thick, it can yield up to four liters.”

An ingredient from Asian cuisine that has made its way into Hispanic cuisine is tamarind, which is used to make a very popular beverage. “Of all the drinks, this is the one that requires the most work,” said Sonia Ramírez, manager of a mobile outlet in east Tulsa.

“There are several ways to make it, but I like to boil the tamarind, and then I separate the fleshy part from the seed.” The next step is to liquefy that pulp with water and sugar. “I just guesstimate; I don’t measure.”

The jamaica (hibiscus flower) drink may be the queen of these beverages. “It is easy to make and everyone likes it,” said Lucía Fernández as she sold some drinks in a small booth in east Tulsa. “In a nutshell: It is an iced tea.”

The intense red color of the hibiscus flowers seeps into hot water; the infusion is filtered through a sieve, and then one needs to just add sugar and “ice, lots of ice,” says Fernández. “That’s all you need.”
Besides those three types, perhaps considered the classic drinks, one may find other fruit beverages, which although not as common, are welcome.

“The watermelon drink is very refreshing,” said Lupe Martínez, who helps Fernández. “We only make it once a week.” They also put pineapple, strawberry and mango on the menu. “It depends on the season. Sometimes everything is available; sometimes there is not much fruit variety.”

So you know how to beat the heat, one drop at a time: with a cool beverage – horchata, jamaica or tamarindo.

Photo by Juan Miret

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