Washington, DC

Claire writes the delicious food blog Sel et Sucre and is gonna share a bit of her magic with PoPville.

base: pineapple, secondary: ginger, citrus: lime, sweetener: simple syrup

I already post recipes on Sel et Sucre so here I’m going to focus on giving you formulas instead of recipes.  What’s the difference?  Recipes lay out exactly what to do for one particular version of one particular dish.  Formulas, on the other hand, explain the general underlying principles and patterns so that you can easily come up with your own recipes.  I like formulas; they’re what turn cooking from a chore into an enjoyable experience.

In honor of the recent heatwaves, I’m going to write a little about agua frescas.  The perfect refreshment on these blazingly hot days.  Often strangely neon in color, these “fresh waters” are essentially diluted juices, with enough sweet and tart flavor to keep you wanting more.  As someone with a compulsive need to provide guests with sustenance as soon as they step in the door (an inherited trait – thanks, Dad!), I love having a pitcher of agua fresca around.  Handing a guest a glass (or jar, as it often goes in my house) filled with this magical elixir on a hot summer afternoon is sure to elicit praise and thanks.

base: Thai basil, secondary + citrus: lime, sweetener: simple syrup

So, let’s get on with it – what’s the formula?

First, start with a base flavor, usually fruit, such as pineapple, melon, or cucumber (yes, cucumbers are a fruit).  Less commonly used but still okay fruits include strawberries and peaches.  I wouldn’t recommend using bananas (instead, slice and freeze those, and create another favorite of mine – which I call a “banana milkshake” – by blending with milk, honey, and cinnamon) or tomatoes (although, like cucumbers, they are technically a fruit).

Next, pick a secondary flavor, usually herbs or spices.  I like to use whichever herb is reaching critical capacity in my garden.  Basil, mint, and rosemary are great options.  Ginger is also really good, or you can even toss in a chili pepper.

Then, add a little citrus.  Preferably fresh-squeezed (and tossing in a little zest won’t hurt).  I typically go with lime, but lemon is also a good option.  Orange juice often works, but be careful – sweeter base flavors really need the tartness of lemon or lime to balance them.

Last, choose a sweetener.  I most frequently use simple syrup (stir together equal parts sugar and water over low heat in a saucepan until dissolved), but plain sugar, honey, or agave syrup should all also work.

Now that you have all your ingredients, use a blender or immersion blender (one of my favorite kitchen tools) to puree until smooth.  You may need an extra couple splashes of water in order to blend.  Don’t forget one of the most important steps – taste it!  Then, adjust your ingredients and re-blend as needed, keeping in mind that you want a strong flavor here as you will be diluting it down the line.

Take the resulting mash, and strain through a cheesecloth-lined strainer.  This is what makes the resulting drink a refreshing, hydrating agua fresca instead of a smoothie.

You can store this concentrated syrup in the refrigerator for a week or two until ready to use.  When you’re ready for a nice drink, mix with still or sparkling water (usually you’ll want about twice as much water as syrup, but it’s easy to adjust to taste), and serve!

You don’t have to follow this formula to a tee.  Feel free to use a herb as your base flavor, omit the sweetener for a healthier version (works especially well with sweeter fruits like strawberries), or otherwise adapt this formula as you see fit.  I have a Thai basil lime agua fresca recipe posted on my site, for example, that uses Thai basil as the base flavor and a hefty amount of lime as both the secondary flavor and citrus.  Don’t be afraid to get creative!  Soon you’ll be ready for the next heatwave.


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