AMALIA’S KITCHEN: Frescos
Fresco in Guatemala is not the art of painting on wet plaster, but the art of making a wholesome fresh drink. Fresco in Spanish means fresh.
Guatemalans accompany everyday meals with refreshing and wholesome fresh fruit drinks or roasted seed-based drinks. Soda is often an afterthought and something they serve for special occasions; sodas could never take the place of a delicious fresco.
They are chilled and served alone or over ice. Frescos are best when fruit is very ripe, and just about any fruit will work. You can freeze chunks of fresh fruit and use them as needed. You can turn frescos into licuados (smoothies) by blending the fruits with ice.
One of the simplest and yet delicious drinks is limonada, a combination of freshly squeezed lime juice, water and sugar. Limonada is a very common fresco to accompany lunch or dinner. Traditionally limonada is made with those three basic ingredients, but it can be elevated to a gourmet level by adding fresh ginger, poppy seeds and panela (raw sugar cane) instead of sugar.
During soaking, the seeds develop a gel-like coating that you can feel on your tongue. Some stay on the bottom of the drink, and others rise to the top. Poppy seeds do not add flavor or aroma, but they do add eye appeal and a bit of nutrition.
Another popular drink is fresco de tamarindo. Tamarind comes from a pod that must be peeled first to expose the gummy brown sweet, highly acidic pulp. To make the drink, the pods must be soaked in water for a while to let them release the pulp on their own. When ready, the soaking water turns cloudy, and the large seeds loosen and are easily visible.
Alternatively, use sweetened tamarind concentrate or frozen tamarind pulp available at grocery stores in the United States and dilute it with water. I like to sweeten the drink with panela for a flavor twist. Fresh fruit drinks settle and need to be stirred before serving.
Hibiscus, or rosa de Jamaica in Guatemala, is a dried flower similar in taste to cranberry. When you steep the flower as a tea, it infuses the water with a deep red wine-like tint. Then it must be mixed with water and sweetened with plenty of sugar, as it is very acidic.
In Guatemala, Jamaica is a refreshing and delicious drink made with water and sugar, but it can be mixed with limeade, mint or soda for a new twist. The drink is popular in other Latin American countries, too. Jamaica is also available as a sweetened concentrate. Drinks containing ice should be sweeter than room-temperature drinks to compensate for the dilution of melting ice.
Here is a recipe for one of my favorite drinks.
Rosa de Jamaica con Limón y Menta
Hibiscus, Lime and Mint Refresher
Makes 1 quart
2 cups water
1 cup hibiscus flowers
4 tablespoons sugar
2 cups cold water
8 lime slices
2 tablespoons mint leaves
2 teaspoons sugar
Combine the water with the hibiscus flowers and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a quick boil. Lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes. Cool. Strain the liquid into a pitcher. Return the hibiscus flowers to the saucepan and add the cold water. Stir well and strain again into the pitcher. Taste and chill.
In a bowl, muddle the lime slices and mint leaves with the sugar, strain, and combine with the hibiscus tea. Serve in glasses filled with ice.
To muddle is to combine ingredients in the bottom of a glass to extract juices and flavors using a muddler—a large stick designed for this particular purpose. At home you can use a wooden spoon or any other sturdy stirring tool.
Amalia Moreno-Damgaard is an award-winning bestselling chef author born and raised in Guatemala City currently living in the Twin Cities. She provides individuals and companies with a taste and understanding of Latin cultures through healthy gourmet cuisine education, consulting, bilingual speaking and writing and fun culinary experiences. Her cookbook “Amalia’s Guatemalan Kitchen-Gourmet Cuisine With A Cultural Flair” has won 9 international awards. AmaliaLLC.com