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Aguas frescas are fresh fruit drinks that are extremely popular all over Mexico. Served by roadside vendors throughout Mexico, this refreshing beverage is typically served in large barrel-shaped glass containers. Most frescas are made with watermelon, cantaloupe and strawberry…not too much fruit, not too much sugar, just a great thirst-quenching drink on a hot summer day.
These beverages were inspired to compliment the rich blending of chiles, herbs and spices found in Mexican food. They function somewhat like sorbets, in that they refresh the palate.
Sugar is used as the traditional sweetener, but for those using a sugar substitute, just follow the measurements on the package (usually three packets for 1/4 cup of sugar). If using honey as a sweetener, mix it with a small amount of hot water before adding it. Each recipe can be varied according to taste. Fresh squeezed lime juice can be added to taste to any of the aguas.
Mix the fruit separately
The biggest difference between aguas frescas and smoothies is when you add the water and ice. If you add all of the water/ice in the blender with the fruit, you’ll end up with a pitcher of foam. The effect is that you’ve created a smoothie, but in no way resembles an aqua fresca. Only add enough water to liquefy the fruit placed in the blender, and then add the remaining water afterward.
These drinks can also be made the traditional way, without a blender, by mashing the fruit with a fork through a sieve before mixing it with the water and sweetener.
Basic aqua fresca
A basic aqua fresca contains fresh fruit chopped coarsely, water, sugar and lime juice. The fruit is blended with a portion of the water and pureed until smooth. It is then strained through a sieve into a large pitcher. The rest of the water, sugar and lime juice is then added. Stir the mixture well and add more water and sugar as needed. Serve well chilled.
Cucumber Agua Fresca with Lime and Mint
Although most aqua frescas are made with fruit, this one is made with cucumbers, fresh limes and mint. It’s the cucumber juice base that seems to have the effect of lowering one’s body temperature. I wonder if this is where the phrase “cool as a cucumber” came from. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll want to drink it all summer long.
2 good sized cucumbers
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
1/4 cup packed mint leaves, woody stems removed
1/2 cup sugar
Trim the ends of the cucumbers, leave the peel on, and coarsely chop. Place ingredients in a blender and add just enough water to fill 3/4 of the blender. Hold the lid down and purée until smooth. Place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and pour the purée through it, pressing against the sieve with a rubber spatula or the back of a spoon to extract as much liquid out as possible.
Fill a large pitcher halfway with ice cubes and add the juice. Serve with sprigs of mint and slices of lime. Makes about one quart.
Watermelon Agua Fresca
This is terrific thirst quencher on a hot summer day. Try other flavors such as strawberry, mango, cantaloupe and honeydew.
6-8 pounds seedless watermelon, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups cold water
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 Tbsp. honey, to taste
Lime slices and mint leaves for garnish
Cut the watermelon flesh from the rind. In a blender, process about half the watermelon pieces with 1 cup of cold water until smooth. Pour through a strainer into a pitcher. Repeat the process with the remaining melon and water. This will give you about 8 cups of juice. Stir in the lime juice and honey. Pour into ice-filled glasses and garnish with lime slices and mint. Makes 6-8 servings.
Strawberry Agua Fresca
Depending on the ripeness of the berries, adjust the amount of sugar for desired sweetness.
4 cups water
1/3 cup sugar
6 cups hulled strawberries
1/4 cup fresh lime juice (about 2 limes)
Combine water and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Place the strawberries in a blender and process until smooth. Add the sugar mixture and stir well. Pour into ice-filled glasses. Makes 6-8 servings.
Granitas use the same ingredients as aqua frescas and smoothies, but the mixture is frozen and then whisked multiple times resulting in the formation of icy crystals, which are then scooped into tall goblets or parfait glasses.
1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed and hulled
3 Tbsps. sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. lemon juice
Mint leaves, for garnish
Wash, hull, and slice the strawberries. Place sliced strawberries in a large bowl. Toss the strawberries with the sugar; let stand for at least one hour at room temperature, or up to four hours. The strawberries will be very juicy. Puree the strawberries and their juices with the water in a blender. Taste and add fresh lemon juice.
Pour mixture into a 13x9-inch baking dish. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze about 45 minutes or until icy at edge of pan. Whisk to distribute frozen portions evenly. Cover and freeze again until icy at edge of pan and overall texture is slushy, about 45 minutes. Whisk to distribute frozen portions evenly. Cover and return to freezer and freeze about 3 hours or until frozen solid. Remove from freezer.
Using a fork, scrape granita down length of pan, forming icy flakes. Return to freezer for at least one hour. Can be made one day ahead. When served, the granita should look like a fluffy pile of dry red crystals.
To serve, scoop flaked granita into tall goblets or parfait glasses. If the granita is too solid, allow it to sit in the refrigerator for half an hour until you can scrape it with a fork. Garnish with mint leaves and serve immediately with iced tea spoons.