Horchata image via Shutterstock
There are people who eschew cold drinks in favor of hot, spicy ones as soon as autumn leaves begin to fall, but those who prefer their beverages chilled (or who live in the southern hemisphere and are just ramping up for summer now) need not despair! The flavors that abound in horchata complement any number of fall dishes. And since El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) is the day after Halloween, this cool Mexican beverage is a perfect accompaniment to the entire season’s celebrations.
In Spain, horchata is generally made with chufa nuts—also known as tiger nuts—but those can be rather difficult to find. You can apparently buy them online at La Tienda (which carries a variety of Spanish delicacies), and you may also find them at specialty shops in some major cities. Although there’s really no substitute for chufas, you can substitute almonds for a fairly decent, and similarly nutty version.
The best recipe I could find for almond horchata came from PopSynth.com:
- 1 pound almonds
- 1 cup (or to taste) sugar or sweetener
- Half a lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick (a heavy dash of powder can be used, but strain it out)
- A miniscule dash of salt
- 6 cups of water
The first step is to remove the skins from the almonds, and the best way to do this is to buy them already skinless. If you are bored, or desperate, you will have to boil the skins off. Put the almonds in a pot of boiling water and let sit until the skins become very soft. With time, the skins will loosen and can be scraped off.
Crush, mangle, or otherwise pulverize the almonds into a coarse powder. If you boiled your poor little almonds to get the skins off, then mutilate them (or put them in a strong blender while adding some water) into a mush.
In a large bowl/container add the water with a tiny dash of salt. Slice and add the lemon. If you use cinnamon powder, you can put some in now.
Mix in the almond powder (or mush). Cover the container and let it sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
Strain the liquid with a fine cloth and make sure you remove all of the large particles, otherwise you get scratchy throat feedback. Add the cinnamon stick and leave it in the fridge until it is VERY cold.
Another variation of horchata is to make it with rice. Toasting the grain before brewing the drink creates a spectacularly nutty, richly-flavored drink that’s worth trying.
Toasted Rice Horchata
- 1/3 cup long-grain rice
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Additional ground cinnamon
Warm a heavy skillet or saucepan on medium-low heat, and toast the rice for a few minutes (stirring constantly) until it releases a nutty aroma. Remove the rice from the heat, allow it to cool for 5-10 minutes, and then pulse it through a blender until it’s a fine powder. Add 2 cups of water, the sugar, and the vanilla extract, and blend well for 20-30 seconds. Strain this into a pitcher through a very fine sieve or cheesecloth, add the remaining water, and chill for 2-5 hours. Serve over ice with a sprinkle of ground cinnamon on top.
This final variation is also a rice-based horchata, and is one that can be served either hot or cold. It can be made with either non-dairy milk (for a vegan version), or condensed milk for a more authentic Mexican experience.
Mexican Horchata Blanca
- 1/3 cup medium or long grain rice
- 1 one-inch piece of Mexican cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 cups evaporated milk or almond milk
- 2 cups condensed milk, coconut cream, or other thick, non-dairy milk
- 4 cups of water
- Freshly ground cinnamon or shaved Mexican chocolate as garnish (optional)
Warm the rice and cinnamon stick in a large skillet over low heat for a few minutes, then remove from the heat and grind in a blender until it’s a fine, powdery texture. Add the vanilla, milks, and water, then pulse briefly to stir the mixture around. Strain this into a pitcher through fine, damp cheesecloth, and either chill for a few hours, or serve warm. If desired, you can grate a little bit of cinnamon or shave some Mexican chocolate to garnish the surface of the drink before serving it.
Any of these variations would go beautifully with a plate of vegan empanadas! If you plan to celebrate the Day of the Dead, pour an extra glass for your dearly departed to enjoy, and be sure to have a spare pitcher on hand; everyone will ask for second helpings, I assure you.
An avid permaculture gardener, locavore, and novice (but enthusiastic!) canner, Lana Winter-Hébert joins Inhabitat after spending the last decade working as a writer and event guru for non-profit/eco organizations. In addition to her work with this site, she writes features and blog posts for Vegan Cuts, Green Pigeon, and several event planning websites based in London, UK. Currently, Lana divides her time between writing, and doing collaborative projects with Winter-Hébert: the design studio she runs with her husband. Best described as “endearingly eccentric”, she spends any spare moments wrestling with knitting projects, and devouring novels by obscure Czech writers. A Toronto native, she has recently chosen to leave that splendid city in favor of a tranquil lakeside nook in rural Quebec, where she and her Sir co-habitate with two hand-raised sparrows that live in their writing-desk.