I’m going to edge into horchata by beginning with the Mexican rice version. Even in Mexico, horchata, originally a barley water, can be made with almonds, oatmeal, melon seeds, and coconut as well as with rice, or even without any of these at all. In Spain, it is glorious made with chufa “nuts” but all these are to come.

I’m beginning here because although horchata is one of my favorite agua frescas, it’s not one I ever seem to make really well at home. So I thought I’d try four different versions. Here are the results.

From left to right:

1. An horchata made with boiled rice

2. An horchata made with soaked raw rice, the commonest method I believe

3. An horchata made with rice flour

4. An horchata made with a commercial mix

To make the first horchata of boiled rice, I used the recipe in Melissa Guerra’s wonderful book Dishes from the Wild Horse Dessert. Melissa’s family and her husband’s too have ranched along the Rio Grande for centuries, they have family ties both sides of the border, are bilingual, and they know and love their culinary traditions.

For 2 quarts of horchata, Melissa suggests boiling 1/2 cup rice and a stick of cinnamon for half an hour in 2 quarts water.

Remove the cinnamon stick and blend adding extra water to make up for what has boiled away, and then add sugar to taste (between 1/2 and a full cup).

To make the second horchata of soaked rice, I took the recipe from Josefina Velázquez de Leon‘s Cocina Oaxaqueña (1984). Josefina Velázquez, as many of you may know, is worth of a post all on her own. From a distinguished family and widowed after a year of marriage, from the 1940s, she taught Mexican cooking to young ladies and published literally dozens of cookbooks under her own imprint. They remain a fundamental resource for Mexican cuisine.

For quart, she suggest soaking 1/4 lb of rice overnight, blending it with a small strip of cinnamon, sieving it through a cloth, and adding half a pound of sugar.

Here’s the soaked rice in the blender.

And here it is whirling away.

To make the third of ground rice, I followed the instructions on a box of rice flour that suggested blending a cup of milk with a tablespoon of rice flour and cinnamon and then adding water to make a liter.

Here is the happy illustration.

Finally for the fourth, I just used a commercial mix, adding one part of the mix to six parts of water and stirring. It took a few seconds to get the thick mixture of sugar, rice, cinnamon, and vanilla to blend with the water.

Results

The horchata made with commercial mix tasted fairly strongly of vanilla. If you like vanilla, you might find this satisfactory but it’s not my favorite flavor. The horchata made with ground rice was a lovely white color but that was due to the milk because the rice did not stay suspended in the mix at all. It tasted strongly of milk. Again perhaps fine if you like drinking milk.

The soaked rice produced as it always does a horchata that tended to separate and that needed to be stirred. When stirred it is an appealing white color and has a faint chalky taste and texture which I happen to find appealing.

The boiled rice also tended to separate and was more greyish than bright white. It tasted good though and I would happily alternate these last two methods.

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