A Harmony of Flavors

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Delightfully Different Beverages from Guatemala

When I lived in Guatemala, I became enamored of a variety of delicious beverages commonly found anywhere down there. Whether in a restaurant, visiting or at home, the sheer variety of unusual things to drink astounded me. Three in particular are ones I want to write about here. One is a hibiscus drink made from the Roselle hibiscus, Hibiscus sabdariffa, or "Rosa de Jamaica" as it was called in Guatemala. Another is called Horchata. Beverages similar are served in many countries, but making it fresh, it is so delicious. The third is tamarind. Tamarind is known all over the world and is probably used more in cooking than as a beverage. It is used in Indian chutneys, African dishes, Caribbean foods. As a beverage, it is easy to  make and a wonderful alternative to lemonade.
Horchata, or Rice and Almond Beverage
The amounts of each ingredient used in this drink may be altered, but basically 3 tablespoons of rice are placed in water to soak for about 4 hours or overnight. The rice is rinsed well and drained, then added to a blender with 2 tablespoons of raw, unhulled sesame seed, 2 inches of true cinnamon stick, 3 tablespoons of almonds, either whole or soaked and peeled and 2 cups of water. The one uncommon ingredient I have used over the years is melon seeds. When I use a cantaloupe, I strain out the seeds, wash them and allow them to dry completely before storing in an airtight container. If you choose to go this route, use about 2 tablespoons of these seeds. They are not essential to a delicious beverage.

This mixture is blended until all ingredients are very fine. Strain the liquid into a pitcher and add in 2 more cups of water, or milk. Sweeten to taste, starting with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and add more as needed as per your preference. The Horchata may be sweetened with honey, agave syrup, Stevia or any other sweetener preferred.
The benefits of this beverage is the fact that one is extracting the goodness and nutrition from almonds, rice and sesame seeds. If only water is used for the liquid, there are no extra calories from the milk. Almonds are low in calories in comparison to many other nuts and good for you. Sesame seeds are quite high in calcium.

Rosa de Jamaica or Roselle Hibiscus Beverage

Rosa de Jamaica
This beverage is made from the calyxes of the Hibiscus sabdariffa plant, often called Roselle Hibiscus. They are deep red and fleshy when fresh. Once dried, the calyxes are packaged and found in many health food stores. They may be ordered online or Mexican groceries often carry them, as they are common in Central America. In Guatemala these are called Rosa de Jamaica, or Jamaican Rose. The hibiscus plant bears small, pale yellowish-white hibiscus flowers, with a deep red center. The plant is not grown for the small flowers, but for the fleshy calyxes. These calyxes can be eaten raw in salads, but in Guatemala they are most often used steeped in hot water to make a healthy beverage.

These calyxes are high in vitamin C. They are high in citric acid, tartaric acid and malic acid as well as flavonoids such as cyanidin, giving them their deep red color. Most countries that cultivate and use these calyxes also consider them medicinal. Some believe the tea can help with coughs. Some studies have been done claiming that drinking the tea helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol. In Guatemala it is considered a hangover remedy. Since the tea helps break down complex sugars and starches, there may be some basis in fact. As the calyxes brew a tea high in Vitamin C, it is good to drink to fight off colds and strengthen the immune system.
Place 1/2 to 1/3 cup of the dried calyxes into 2 cups of boiling hot water and allow to steep for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain the liquid, add in another 2 to 4 cups of water and sweeten to taste. This beverage is delicious hot or cold.

Agua de Tamarindo, or Tamarind Beverage
Tamarind, or Tamarindus indica, is known throughout the world and is possibly used in cooking more often than as a beverage. Its flavor is a component of Worcestershire sauce. It is commonly used in Indian chutney. Tamarind is native to tropical Africa, but has spread around the world. The tamarind pods grow on a tree. They have a brown, brittle shell, rusty brown, sticky pulp and may contain from 1 to 12 large, flat, glossy brown seeds. The pulp is very fibrous. The flavor is quite sour and tart, making it excellent for use as a refreshing beverage.

Tamarind is a good source of antioxidants, containing carotenes, vitamin C, flavonoids and B vitamins. They protect against vitamin C deficiency. Tamarind is good for digestion. It can be made into a gargle for sore throat. It is said to lower cholesterol and promote a healthy heart. It is very high in potassium and provides a great supply of calcium, unusual in a fruit.
Make a beverage from about a half pound of tamarind pods by first cracking off the brittle shells. Place the insides into water and allow to soak for 2 or more hours. Once the pulp has softened, use hands to squeeze the pulp, freeing it into the water. Strain the liquid out and add in enough more water to make 1 or 2 quarts, as desired and sweeten with sugar or other sweetening agent and chill or pour over ice.

Discover the flavors of these three delicious and healthful beverages. Seek out the ingredients and see what you may have been missing.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and sign up for my Newsletter.