By Kathy Taylor
As the weather warms up down here in our tropical savannah, nothing beats the heat like a cool glass of aqua fresca. In markets, taquerias, and street carts all over Mexico, big glass jugs frosted with condensation hold delicious refreshing aguas frescas.
Ladled out during the day from their trademark glass jars, these delicious fruity waters are the perfect counterpoint to the complex, picante flavors of Mexican cuisine. Almost all comida corridas or Daily Special lunches include a tasty agua, and there is nothing like walking down a hot dusty road and discovering a bicycle cart with rattling jars of aguas heading in your thirsty direction.
Basic fruit waters have just three components – crushed fruit, sweetener, and water. Obviously, some of the flavors are seasonal, like guayaba and mango. Some are surprising, like cucumber and chile, or pineapple with ginger. One of the most popular aguas is ruby red Flor de Jamaica, which is not a fruit at all, but brewed from dried hibiscus blossoms. Tart and tangy lemonade is easy, easy to make – squeeze about ½ cup of lime juice, add simple syrup or sugar to taste, stir in about a liter of still or sparkling water and you have successfully made your first agua fresca.
Here are two of my favorite recipes, one for that iconic standby sweet-tart Agua Flor de Jamaica, and the other for one of the prettiest aguas of all, Agua de Sandia, or watermelon. The base for this versatile cooling drink is a springboard for a classic agua fresca, or, with the addition of sparkling wine instead of water, it transforms into an effervescent watermelon sangria.
Agua de Sandia
- 4 cups of cubed, seeded watermelon
- ¼ cup of simple syrup**
- Juice of one lime
- 1 liter of water or sparkling wine
Blend the watermelon chunks till pureed, pour into a large serving pitcher, add the syrup, lime juice, and a liter of water*** for a delicious agua.
For sparkling watermelon sangria, to the watermelon, syrup and lime mixture add ½ cup of vodka, then just before serving, add a bottle of sparkling wine or prosecco. Garnish each glass with a watermelon slice and a few sprigs of mint.
*Cellophane bags of dried Jamaica can be found in most markets or supermarkets in Mexico.
**Simple syrup – using equal amounts of water and sugar, boil the water, stir in the sugar and boil for a few seconds till the sugar dissolves. Take off the heat and cool before using. Keep in the refrigerator.
***I recommend using purified water for all aguas.
Agua Flor de Jamaica
- 2 cups dried hibiscus flowers*
- 8 cups water
- 3/4 cup sugar or equivalent amount of sugar substitute
Rinse and drain the hibiscus flowers in a colander.
Put them in a saucepan with 4 cups of the water and the sugar.
Stir and bring to a slow boil, lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
The flowers will have lost their color into the water, which will be a deep red color. Let the liquid cool, then strain it into a pitcher.
Discard the flowers.
Add the rest of the water and stir.
Chill thoroughly before serving.
Recipe by Karen Hursh Graber, Mexconnect.
Kathy Taylor is a sailor, chef, and freelance writer based in Huatulco, Mexico. She writes about nautical and gourmet events locally and internationally, and is passionate about Mexico’s expanding yachting scene