I just ordered and received a copy of Fany Gerson's new book Paletas, devoted to those special Mexican ice pops of the same name. The book has been getting a lot of buzz in the blogosphere, and it's not hard to understand why when you flip through the pages and discover the delectable menu of paletas, raspados (snow cones!) and of course...aguas frescas. As Gerson explains, an agua fresca ('fresh water') is somewhere between juice and soda. Made with fresh fruit, herbs, nuts, seeds or some combination thereof and mixed with sugar and water, aguas frescas are the ultimate thirst-quencher, particularly in hot weather.
The history of aguas frescas apparently dates all the way back to the time of the Aztecs. When they would travel from their farmlands to the capital city of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City), they would mash fresh fruit and mix it with water to keep themselves refreshed during the journey. Today, aguas frescas are made with any number of the wonderful tropical fruit and herbs found in Mexico - coconut, tamarind, hibiscus, strawberry, lime, pumpkin seeds, you name it! Since Mexicans like their spice, chillies are sometimes added as well.
With some gorgeous and very ripe watermelon that we found in the market, I made a delicious agua fresca with basil (which goes wonderfully with watermelon!) and one little green chile pepper. The chile taste is really very subtle, but you can omit it too if you would prefer. Like most aguas frescas, this is best consumed immediately (and trust me, you won't be able to resist it for long anyway), but you could also take a chilled flask of this to a picnic or BBQ this summer. And for an adult version, you can add a little shot of vodka!
WATERMELON BASIL CHILE FRESCA
Makes a big flask
1/3 cup sugar
4 cups water
6 cups chopped, seeded watermelon
1/3 cup chopped basil leaves
1 small green chile, chopped (optional)
Juice of one lime
1. Stir the sugar into the water in a large bowl. Stir well until the sugar dissolves.
2. In a blender, liqueify the watermelon, basil and chile.
3. Add the watermelon puree and lime juice to the sugar water. Stir well and pour into a pitcher.
4. Chill in the fridge and serve over ice.