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Between bites of tear-inducing salsa, roasted poblanos and fiery tacos we require a beverage intermission. A chilly palette cleanser to revive our resigned taste-buds presents itself in the form of Horchata, a Latin American beverage consisting of ground almonds, rice, cinnamon and lime. Although there are many variations, I’ll be presenting the most common recipe fit for sun baked Houston afternoons.

On to the ingredients!

2 C of uncooked rice (long-grain white unrinsed)
2 C  blanched almonds
2 tsp fresh lime juice
Zest from 2 limes
4 cinnamon sticks
2 tsps vanilla extract – don’t buy imitation, gross!
1.25 C of sugar
.25 C brown sugar – dark or light

NOTE:  The rice should be unrinsed, the starch will add color and creaminess. The almonds can be whole or slivered but must be blanched. Don’t forget to pick up cheesecloth before preparing this recipe!

Step 1

In a blender, pulse rice until powdery. Place ground rice, almonds, lime juice, lime zest and the cinnamon stick in a pot and cover with 4 cups of warm water then let stand overnight. During this time, the zest and almonds will be releasing their natural oils along with the cinnamon.

Step 2
Remove the cinnamon sticks then pour the contents into your blender with an additional 1 cup of water. Blend until smooth. Double line a colander with cheesecloth over a bowl or pitcher and pour in the mixture from the blender with an additional 3 cups of water. Wring the cheesecloth until you release every drop of liquid. In case you have bits of almond or rice floating around, pass the mixture through the cheesecloth once again. At this point you should have a smooth and milky liquid.

Step 3

We’re on the home stretch! Grab a pan and heat 2 cups of water with the sugar until dissolved. Now add this simple syrup to the horchata along with vanilla extract then stir thoroughly. Fill a glass with ice and fill with horchata. Viola!, the flavor elements of rice, almond, cinnamon and lime have been poured into a glass. Refreshing! Sweet! Nutty! Recommended between bites of chili or even spicy crawfish if you happen to run out of Coronas. Horchata is definitely a drink lending itself to variation.

How about some fusion ideas?

1. Substitute half the almonds with pistachios for a tinge of green and unique flavor.

2. Some Hispanic bars in Southern California use horchata as a mixer in a cocktail known as a “Rice Rocket.” The drink is made of two parts horchata, one part coconut-flavored rum, and a dash of Goldschläger over ice.

3. When soaking the rice mixture, substitute 2 cups of coconut milk for water.

4. Add a tablespoon of chopped ginger.

5. Try using cashews and peanuts for a more complex flavor.

Well there you have it, with a hot Houston summer approaching it’s essential to add this simple beverage to your recipe repertoire. Hope you enjoy and until next time….