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 and is made with raw rice, cinnamon and sugar. 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. 

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

Rice and Almond Beverage

This is a very refreshing drink made from rice. In Guatemala it is called "Horchata". The rice is simply soaked, not cooked, and with the addition of a few other ingredients, it is great on a hot day. It is lovely for a party, if alcohol is not a choice for some. I once served it at a baby shower!

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.



Makes about 4½ cups

4½ tablespoons uncooked rice
3 tablespoons raw almonds
3 inches "true" cinnamon (look in Mexican
markets, or Mexican section of the grocery)
3 tablespoons cantaloupe seeds (dry and save), optional
4 tablespoons sesame seeds (raw, unhulled)
6 cups water (or 3 c. water, 3 c. milk)
¼ - ½ cup sugar, as desired
Soak the rice in water to cover for at least 4 hours. Rice remains uncooked. Wash it well and put into a blender container along with the almonds, cinnamon, melon seeds, sesame seeds, sugar, and about ½ of the liquid called for. Blend till everything is very finely ground. Strain the liquid into a pitcher and add the remaining liquid, stirring well. Chill before serving. Serve over ice, if desired.

NOTES: This recipe calls for melon seeds. I have never seen a recipe call for melon seeds before, but they are easy enough to harvest from a nice cantaloupe, when cutting and slicing. Rinse the seeds well, pulling out any bits of melon that cling. Allow them to dry out completely before storing in an airtight jar.

Sweeten to taste, starting with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and add more as needed as per your preference. The Horchata beverage may be sweetened with honey, agave syrup, Stevia or any other sweetener preferred.

Roselle Hibiscus and Beverage

Roselle Hibiscus calyxes
Roselle: Hibiscus sabdariffa is a species of Hibiscus native from India to Malaysia, growing best in tropical and sub-tropical regions up to about 3,000 feet and requires good rainfall.

It is an annual, erect, bushy sub shrub that can grow to 8 feet tall, with mostly smooth and usually red stems. Leaves are alternate, about 3 to 5 inches long with reddish veins. The flowers are 3 – 5 inches in diameter, pale yellow or buff colored with a dark red spot at the base of each petal. The flowers mature to have a stout fleshy calyx at the base, fleshy and bright red as the fruit matures over about 6 months. The leaves are used in some countries like a spicy version of spinach. The fleshy calyxes can be chopped and cooked with sugar, yielding a condiment much like cranberry sauce.

The beverage as made in Guatemala, 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 which can be served hot or over ice.

Rosa de Jamaica
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.

Rosa de Jamaica

Makes 1 quart

1/3 to ½ cup dried Rosa de Jamaica
4 cups boiling water
¼ cup sugar, more, or less to taste

Place the dried Rosa de Jamaica calyxes into the boiling water and allow to steep for 20 minutes or so. Strain and sweeten to taste. Chill and enjoy.

Tamarind Beverage

Tamarind Pods and inner fruit
Tamarind, or Tamarindus indica, is known throughout the world and is possibly used in cooking more often than as a beverage. While not actually a spice, this sweet tart fruit is used like a spice to flavor foods all around the world. Its flavor is a component of Worcestershire sauce. It is commonly used in Indian chutney. Tamarind is native to tropical Africa, and also grows abundantly in India but has spread around the world. The name tamarind comes from the Indian words Tamar Hindi, meaning Indian Date. The tamarind was introduced into Mexico and the Caribbean sometime around the 16th century. The tamarind tree can grow to a height of around 80 feet in its preferred climate. The tree appears feathery, with tiny leaflets down each side of the stems. These leaflets close up at night. The fruit grows as brown pods. 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, much as lemons for lemonade. Tamarind is used to make a most refreshing and thirst quenching beverage in Guatemala, Mexico and other areas of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Tamarind is both sweet and sour at the same time. It is a potent flavor, best used somewhat sparingly unless you are quite accustomed. It is a wonderful addition to any sweet and sour dishes, and is an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. In Southeast Asian cooking, it is a flavor often combined with such other ingredients as garlic, dried shrimp, coconut and chilies. Pad Thai is one commonly known Thai dish using tamarind.

In India, it is used to make delicious chutney, as well as a Tamarind Rice or South Indian Fish Curry. In the Caribbean islands it is often used in cooking seafood. Small amounts of tamarind paste are used in sauces for dishes containing cassava, chickpeas, potatoes or rice with greens. It can be used to make sweet and sour sauces, mixed into recipes with both sugar and pepper, mixed into barbecue sauces, made into beverages, desserts and candies. One common use for tamarind is in sauces, which gives control of the amount used.

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.

Tamarind can be found in its pods at some international markets, or in compressed cakes or in concentrate or paste form. For this recipe, use either whole pods or the compressed cake version.

Tamarind Beverage - Agua de Tamarindo

Agua de Tamarindo

Makes 1 or 2 quarts

1/2 pound tamarind pods or cake
1 - 2 quarts of water, as needed
sugar or sweetener, to taste

Peel pods, cracking off the brittle shells, if whole. Soak the fruit or compressed cake in at least 1 quart of water for about 2 hours to soften. With scrupulously clean hands, break apart the pulp, freeing it into the water. Strain the mixture and add more water if desired. Less water makes a more concentrated beverage. Add sugar or other sweetener as needed.

Chill or pour over ice to serve.

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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.