When you hear the word “horchata,” what comes to mind? I’m sure the answers will vary. The most literal-minded of you will think “rice milk,” some of you may simply associate it with the concept of the “taqueria,” while others might draw a complete blank. I for one can’t get the image of the mouthy whores of the Mission district out of my head. Not that I associate them with actual drink, it’s just the phonics of the word that lead me there.
The word horchata is derived from the Valencian word orxata, which itself is derived from ordiata (from the Latin word for barley, hordeata). A popular, though quite unsubstantiated, myth tells the story of a young Moorish girl who gave King James I of Aragon a beverage of ground chufa (tigernut or earth almond) and upon drinking, the king exclaimed, “Això és or, xata!” (This is gold, girl!).
So there you have it. Believe it or not.
The origins of the beverage are as cloudy as the drink itself. The Egyptians had a similar drink made of barley water mixed with honey. The Arabs brought a form of it up to the Iberian peninsula in their unconquerable days, and the Spanish have loved it so much for so long that they ended up pouring it all over the New World.
In Mexico, the beverage is made of rice, water, cinnamon, and sugar. In Spain, the chufa is the preferred source of starch. El Salvador has its own version, too. Pretty much everybody has their own version which they deem to be correct, but the essentials remain the same: a source of starch, water, and some form of sweetener. Cinnamon is commonly used (and personally, I feel that horchata without cinnamon is just plain rice milk). Lime or lemon zest are also frequent guests in the mix. It is entirely up the the preferences of the individual making it.
And I say make your own. It requires more effort than wandering down to your local taqueria to buy some, but it is inexpensive and extremely satisfying– much more so than those whores in the Mission, certainly. And it’s gold. It’s tasty white gold, girl.
After examining several recipes, I settled on one that included almonds. The almonds give an extra bit of complexity to this otherwise humble-but-wonderful beverage.
Makes about 5 to 6 cups, depending.
1 cup of long grain white rice
1 cup chopped almonds, without skin
5-6 cups of water (depending upon one’s preferences)
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup of simple syrup or sugar. You may use less or more, according to your taste for sweetness.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a coffee grinder (that does not smell of coffee), pulverize the rice into dust. Most effectively done in two or three batches.
2. In a suitable container, combine rice, almonds, cinnamon and 3 cups of water. Let sit covered overnight.
3. The following day, pour the mixture into a blender and purée until as smooth as possible, adding as much sugar and water as you like.
4. Strain the horchata. Some prefer to do this through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. I prefer to use a tea towel, since there is a lot of grit involved. It takes a bit more time and hands-on wringing, but the gripping and twisting motions are an excellent way to work out pent up aggression, and the results are much better. So I think.
5. Refrigerate or simply serve over ice with a scant sprinkling of ground cinnamon.