Agua Fresca

I love talking food with my friend Michael M. at the Co-op – he is also an avid cook and is really good about making all kinds of things from scratch, including his own tortillas and refried beans (which I will be trying myself very soon).  Late last week he was telling me about how he makes Agua Fresca – a refreshing drink that is common in Mexico and Central America.  It is essentially a fruit, grain, and/or flower flavored beverage that is great on a hot (or warm, in our case) summer day.

Yummy local veggies!

The forecast predicted warmer temperatures and sunny skies for this weekend, and I thought that Agua Fresca sounded like a great recipe to demo.  We have so much delicious Washington grown fruit right now to choose from that the biggest decision was deciding what flavors to make!  With Michael’s sage advice, I decided on a couple different ones – watermelon, donut (or Saturn) peach and lime for the first and cantaloupe, cucumber, basil and lime for the second – and all ingredients except the lime were grown in-state.

Agua Fresca is extremely easy to make – simply peel and rough cut your chosen ingredients and throw them in the blender.  Once they are puréed, you strain it through either cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer, add it back to the blender with a little sugar, and then into your pitcher with some water.  Once it is chilled (very important – it is best when served ice-cold) you are good to go – one sip and you feel like you should be sitting on a beach with a good book – you can almost hear the waves crashing in the background!

You can use any soft fruit (or vegetable) for this recipe, and you are only limited by your imagination.  This is a great way to use overripe fruit, as it will purée that much easier!  I’ve included the recipes for the two versions I made to sample for customers (who loved it – kids especially), but don’t be afraid to think outside the box!

Agua Fresca photo © Sassy Sampler 2011

Agua Fresca

Recipe courtesy of Michael Marques

INGREDIENTS

Watermelon/Peach

  • 1 “personal” watermelon, chopped
  • 3 donut peaches or 1 large peach, pitted and chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2-4 T sugar *
  • Water

Cucumber/Cantaloupe

  • 1 large cucumber, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cantaloupe, seeded and chopped
  • 3-6 large leaves of basil
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2-4 T sugar *
  • Water

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Prepare your fruit/herbs/vegetables.
  2. Add fruit/herbs/vegetables to blender and purée.
  3. Strain purée through cheesecloth or a fine mesh strainer into your pitcher.  Get as much of the juice from the pulp as possible; discard pulp.
  4. Strain again, but back into the blender this time.  Add sugar, starting with 2T and blend until combined.  Taste mixture to see if you want to add more sugar.
  5. Pour mixture back into your pitcher.  Add enough water to fill container and mix.
  6. Chill completely and serve icy cold, preferably with crushed ice.

* you can use just about any sweetener – if you choose to use a liquid one like honey or agave syrup, then you should dissolve it in a little bit of hot water before mixing it into the purée.

Can’t you see the beach?

Agua Fresca translates literally as “fresh water”.  It is served all over Mexico and it very simple to recreate at home.  It is hard to mess up—you can add as much water as you like to make it thinner or thicker, depending on your personal tastes.  Comer con gusto!

Agua Fresca PDF


Pico de Gallo

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, this week I wanted to prepare a Mexican recipe. Even though you wouldn’t know it was May by looking outside in Whatcom County, everyone is craving a bit of freshness that this month usually brings – anything that might trick our brains into thinking that we might eventually see two full days of sunshine in a row! I know that I am already waiting eagerly for more local produce to start arriving, so I chose a recipe that is fresh and tastes like warm weather – Pico do Gallo.

Pico de Gallo is a common condiment in Mexico. It is commonly a tomato/onion base but can also be a fruit salad tossed with chili powder (in parts of Mexico where this is common, the tomato/onion version is referred to as salsa picada). It is a dry salsa, so it can be used in many different ways without creating sogginess. I’ll focus on the tomato version – where it gets its name from is slightly disputed according to Wikipedia, but translated it means “rooster’s beak”, and is thought to be called that because it was “originally eaten with the thumb and forefinger, and retrieving and eating the condiment resembled the actions of a pecking rooster”. While you can certainly eat it that way, you can also use it in tacos, as a chip dip, in fajitas, and even sandwiches.

Pico de Gallo is a really pretty condiment – the red from the tomatoes, white from the onion, and green from the jalapeño and cilantro conjure images of the Mexican flag.The lime gives it a sunny citrus-y aroma to complete the palette pleasantry. I used hot-house tomatoes grown in British Columbia and an organic red onion grown in Washington, but a couple of my ingredients fittingly came from Mexico – an organic jalapeño and an organic lime. Round that out with some organic California cilantro and you’ve got sunshine in a bowl!

To make this salsa “dry”, you have to seed the tomatoes. This is easily done by cutting the tomato in half and then using a spoon to scoop out the seeds into a bowl, letting the juice run out as well. After preparing my tomatoes, I dry roasted the jalapeño whole in a low-sided skillet over medium-high heat until the seeds started popping, to give it extra flavor. If you have never done this before, it can be a little startling when the seeds pop because the pepper will jump in the pan. Be sure you turn it often when you are cooking it so it doesn’t burn. This should only take a few minutes.  Once the skin starts to wrinkle and you don’t hear so many “pops” from the seeds, take it off the heat and tent some foil over it while you cut up the rest of your ingredients.

Once I had the lime juice squeezed and the onion and the cilantro diced, I added them to the bowl with my diced tomatoes and added a little salt. When the pepper was cooled, I cut it in half and seeded it, then chopped that up and into the bowl it went (don’t rinse the pepper to get the seeds out, otherwise it will lose some of the oils you released when it was cooked). It went into the fridge to chill for an hour or so and it was good to go (although this isn’t necessary). Pico de Gallo is best when consumed the day it is made, although you can eat it the next day – keep it in the fridge and drain out any liquid that has accumulated in the bottom of the bowl before serving for the best results.

¡provecho!

Pico de Gallo

adapted from www.mexicanfoodrecipes.org and Wikipedia

INGREDIENTS

  • 4-6 ripe tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 medium red onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 c finely minced cilantro
  • 1 T fresh lime juice
  • 1 jalapeño
  • ~ 1 t sea salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Heat a skillet (cast iron works best) over medium-high heat and toast the whole jalapeño, turning it often until you hear the seeds start to pop and it is slightly wrinkled.
  2. Tent jalapeno with foil and allow to cool.
  3. Once pepper is cool enough, remove the stem and seeds and finely dice.
  4. Mix all ingredients in a bowl, adding jalapeño to taste—the pan roasting will intensify the flavor of the jalapeño, so add about half of it at first and taste it before adding more.
  5. Serve with corn chips, tacos, nachos, black beans, fajitas, etc.

You can add other ingredients to traditional Pico de Gallo, like minced garlic, minced roasted peppers (either Bell or hot peppers), cucumber, hard fruit like mango, jicama, or radish for a slightly different flavor profile.

Pico De Gallo PDF