We’re still in the height of summer here in the northern hemisphere, and to stay hydrated, we’ve been indulging in everything from herbed waters and iced tea to granita and sorbets, but it’s always fun to try something new, right? If you’ve never had horchata, it’s certainly worth the bit of effort required to make it. Although a hot version of this drink is popular in autumn for El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) this gorgeous Mexican beverage is just as perfect for summer barbecues, beach lounging, and days spent reading in the sunshine.
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! Also, if you’re in the southern hemisphere and are dealing with chilly nights, feel free to serve these drinks warm, with a plate of churros to dip into them.
Lead image via Shutterstock