Thursday, August 30, 2012

Aguas Frescas: Mexican Thirst-Quenchers

In the hot summertime, Mexicans reach for a fragrant, ripe fruit juice, freshly dissolved in a blender with ice water to quench the thirst and hydrate the body. Why consume outrageously sugary soft drinks by the gallons, when you can just as easily get hooked on the real thing? Natural fruit with nutrients such as Vitamin C and E and antioxidants you can find in fruits such as mangos, canteloupe, and papayas, to mention a few?

In Mexico these natural, fresh fruit juices known as aguas frescas (“fresh waters”) are found in open-air markets in gigantic transparent glass jugs, lined up and ready to be ladled into a glass.

Aguas frescas are drunk from the spring until the early fall and can be found in every region of Mexico as well as in the US wherever Mexican culture abounds. They are not exactly smoothies because water and a small amount of sugar is added to the fruit pulp, and they are not just made from fruit, but also from seeds such as tamarindo or chia (a kind of sage grown by the Aztecs). An agua fresca can be made from flowers as well, such as the one called jamaica, made from hibiscus flowers. One of my favorites is horchata, made from rice, originating in Spain, quite possibly via the moorish occupation.

Some great places to find agua frescas:

• Jugos Acapulco – Santa Ana and Costa Mesa, CA
• Paradise Aguas Frescas – Tucson, AZ
Taqueria Jalisco – Clovis, NM

If you can’t find aguas frescas near you, try making them yourself. To make any basic agua fresca, start out with a very ripe and sugary cantaloupe, or watermelon, mango, or pineapple, for example, and blend 1 part fruit and 2-3 parts water. Even with water added, the essence of the fruit in all its glory refreshes the palate. Strain or don’t strain, and add sugar to taste. Squeeze limes for a slight citrus punch to the agua fresca and serve cold in icy-frosted glasses.

Here are a few other recipes:

Jamaica and Chia


This article originally appeared on The Menuism Blog here:  Aguas Frescas: Mexican Thirst-Quenchers.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Papaya for Dessert

I've always wondered why people feel each meal should be topped by a sugary, calorie-laden dessert, either store bought or homemade. Don't get me wrong, I love a good apple pie in the fall with a rich vanilla ice cream, or a pear tart as my friend, Ania, makes it. But to eat a heavy dessert every time you sit down for lunch and/or supper? Is it any wonder we have the problems we do with obesity and the health problems related to it?

The after-meal dessert is something that U.S. children have come to expect. Is it a missplaced sense of prosperity that makes us eat this way? Did we eat this way in the 50's? In Laredo?  If so, I don't recall. We baked cookies or buñuelos for special occasions, made cakes for birthdays, ate ice cream on hot summer days, or pan dulce especially when it was cold outside, and had a feast of desserts at Thanksgiving. But after every meal? I shudder to think of how much I would struggle with weight now if I had grown up gobbling desserts after every meal. As it is, it's not easy.

I notice the less advantaged people of Mexico in my visits and the wholesomeness of much of their diet. They can't afford pies, doughnuts, soft drinks, frozen things in boxes and packages. They must depend on food at its origin: the vegetables, the legumes, and the fruit. And often the meat is cooked into a soup and accompanied with tortillas. It's ironic that some of these people with a few pesos a day eat a healthier meal than some of our more advantaged children here in the U.S., let alone those who fall through the cracks here.

If I could do anything to change the meal planning in the school where I teach, I would advocate serving dessert only once a week and offer the student a plate of fruit after their mid-day meal. There would be a revolt to be sure; sugar cannot easily be taken away. But at some point peace would prevail (I think) and these children who are accustomed to such a high intake of sugar in one day would become accustomed to living with less of it, becoming healthier adults as a result.

Papaya is an example of what we ate at home as a snack or something to offer a guest on a hot day, or simply a dessert after a meal. What's there to prepare? You just peel a cold papaya, remove the seeds, chop or slice and arrange on a platter. Papaya is one of the fruits that contains the highest concentration of Vitamin C, potassium and beta-carotene. The custom in Mexico (or Laredo) is to serve a platter of papaya with salt and lime juice, squeezed at the last minute. Its sublime tropical flavor on a summer day beats any baked dessert anyone can put before you.

Simply Papaya

Recipe Type: dessert, snack

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 5 mins

Total time: 5 mins

Papaya is the perfect, healthy dessert or snack that comes wrapped in its own 'skin'. Just peel and arrange on a beautiful platter and dazzle the eye with the color and the palate with the taste! Serve it as it is done in Mexico, with salt and lime to lend complexity to the fresh taste.


  • papaya

  • salt to taste

  • Mexican limes


  1. Peel the papaya and remove the seeds.

  2. Cut in slices or 1 inch cubes.

  3. Arrange on a platter and squeeze lime and sprinkle salt before serving.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

One Way to Get Your Greens

I'll bet you didn't know those weeds that grow on the side of the road are not only edible, but also delicious.  I'm referring to verdolaga or common purslane (portulaca oleracea), which can be the bane of the gardener or a treasure for the discerning cook.

What's more, this succulent weed is incredibly healthy. Verdolaga contains high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and is a great source of Vitamin C and some B-complex vitamins. Here in central Mexico where I often travel, verdolaga is everywhere: on the side of the road, growing lushly (albeit wildly) in clay pots, and in the market.

The best part of eating verdolaga is that you can't beat the price. In my case, it's free because it grows abundantly next to a lime tree in a large pot. No complaints from me about the wayward growth of tangled verdolaga, ready for my kitchen and my palate!

Verdolagas a.k.a. Purslane

Recipe Type: salad

Author: Gilda Valdez Carbonaro

Prep time: 10 mins

Total time: 10 mins

Serves: 4

  • 4 cups of washed, chopped verdolaga

  • 1 or 2 firm, but ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges or strips

  • ½ red onion, cut into thin slices

  • 1 avocado cut into strips

  • 2 limes

  • ½ cup chopped cilantro

  • ½ olive oil

  • Rock salt to taste
  1. Mix the verdolaga, tomatoes, onion, and cilantro in a salad bowl.

  2. Arrange the avocado.

  3. Sprinkle rock salt.

  4. Drizzle olive oil.

  5. Squeeze the juice of both limes and serve.

You may prefer to thoroughly mix the oil, salt, and lime juice before arranging the avocado slices so that all the leaves of the verdolaga are smeared with the dressing.