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A few friends recently mentioned the beverage horchata to me in passing. Horchata, they whispered. Horchata, horchata, horchata. I vowed to learn more about this mysterious beverage, but first, I would need an expert.
And so I turned to Chef Luisa Rios, a Colombian-born, Le Cordon Bleu-trained personal chef based in Vancouver. According to Rios, horchata is a popular Latin American drink made by soaking and grinding nuts, grains, and seeds (think oats, barley, rice) until they are "milked." Popular vegan beverages such as rice milk, almond milk, and even hemp milk rely on a similar technique.
This cold, sweet and refreshing drink, Rios says, is always present at parties, festivals and even street corners throughout South and Central America. She grew up drinking the Colombian version of horchata, called Avena Fría. (Different versions are also popular in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.)
"My dad had a close friend who he charmingly nicknamed ‘El Tio’ (‘The Uncle’), because he owned a cafe that was called ‘Donde El Tío’ (or ‘Uncle's Place’). It was a treat after school to go to visit with him and have a free avena fría with a bunuelo (a little treat like a deep-fried cheese donut)." Even today, Rios says, if her family doesn’t have a large meal, her father will still sip a glass of Avena to tide him over to breakfast.
The most popular version of horchata in North America is Mexico’s, Rios says. Flavored with rice, lime, and plenty of canela (cinnamon), the sugar-sweetened, nondairy beverage is perfect for lazy summer days. She suggests keeping a pitcher in the fridge, at the ready.
Here’s a horchata recipe from Rick Bayless, as printed several years ago in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Do you think horchata sounds refreshing? Chime in below!