My abiding love for horchata is well-documented: recently, I wrote about about the Spanish tiger-nut based version of this sweet, creamy dairy-free beverage. Today I'm here to talk about Mexican horchata, the drink most of you are probably already familiar with. Often sold from a street cart that also offers watermelon or tamarind aguas frescas, Mexican horchata is creamy and intensely sweet. Like Spanish-style horchata, it's essentially a nut milk—my version and many others uses raw almonds—but the base also includes plenty of rice. Cloudy and slightly floral, particularly when made from fragrant rice like jasmine or basmati, horchata lacks any dairy but nonetheless tastes rich and milky.
Although I love classic Mexican horchata just as it is—on a hot summer day, when it's served over plenty of ice, it's both refreshing and indulgent—I saw a lot of potential for the drink's mild flavor to mesh well with all kinds of ingredients. Because strawberries are just coming in to season, I knew one of the variations I wanted to create had to include these spring beauties, and, as it turns out, I wasn't the first person to think of the pairing: in Mexico, this pastel-pink liquid is known as horchifresa. The berries, blended into the horchata base after the rice and almonds have soaked overnight, add welcome fruitiness and just a touch of acidity.
For my second horchata combination, I wanted to look beyond Mexican borders, and spent some time thinking about how the rest of the world eats rice. That led me to the pairing of fresh lemongrass and spicy ginger, which accents rice-based dishes all over Asia. I add plenty of both to the overnight soak and blend them well the next day; the resulting drink is zingy and unexpected, the brightness of the lemongrass and ginger meshing perfectly with the fragrant flavor of the rice. Sweetened up and served over ice, this horchata tastes lush and exotic—an example of culinary fusion that actually works.
Both of the above variations are truly delicious, but I'll admit that I'm saving the best one for last: a deep, dark coffee-cinnamon horchata that makes an excellent substitute for a morning cup of joe, a welcome afternoon pick-me-up on those days that seem to drag, or, well, an addiction that you sip throughout the whole day because it's just so darn tasty. I grind dark-roast beans and whole cinnamon sticks right in with the rice and almonds, and as they soak overnight, they imbue the mix with the subtle, almost savory flavors you find in cold-brew coffee.
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