Monday, July 13, 2009

Horchata Chases Away Summer Heat

Fruit-rich sangria, icy margaritas, chilled Pinot Grigio, or a frosty bottle of draft beer - they're all great thirst quenchers during steamy summer days and nights. A tall glass of iced tea or lemonade is another way to chase away the heat. But in recent years, one of my favorite summer beverages has been horchata, an especially popular drink in Spain and Mexico.

According to the book, The Food Lover's Companion, these refreshing coolers are 'drinks made by steeping nuts, grains or chufa (nuts) in water. They're usually lightly sweetened with sugar and sometime spiced with cinnamon. Horchatas are generally served cold or at room temperature.'

A family-owned restaurant near our house, Tarahumara Mexican Food, makes a fabulous and huge version of horchata, which I have relished several times since summer began. However, I hadn't tasted horchata elsewhere within an hour of home, until last week.

During a lunch visit to Pachamama's in Lawrence, Kan., I ordered horchata as a liquid dessert after I enjoyed a serving of Wakarusa Farms Mushroom Tart. Opened in 1996, the restaurant is known for its innovative cuisine using fresh ingredients and was named one of Zagat's World's Top Restaurant 2009/2010. So when the menu mentioned Cardomon Horchata dusted with jicama, I wasn't surprised by their inventiveness.

The only problem is that when you're using fresh ingredients the ones you want sometimes aren't available - or affordable - in this case, the jicama. So the chef prepared my horchata with cinnamon and orange instead. Pretty in a glass at the table, it also quenched my thirst from a 'to-go' cup as I returned to a steamy, rainy July day.