Unbearable heat, droughts, and suffocating humidity — yes, San Antonio summer is finally upon us. This time, why drag yourself out and fight the mosquitos for ice cream, soda, or Kool-Aid mix when you can skip the pain and enjoy a healthy alternative to those artificially flavored summer treats? Aguas Frescas, translated in English as ‘fresh water,’ are a Mexican classic served over ice to make us forget, if for a moment, the sweltering Texas heat.
While you can find Aguas Frescas from downtown vendors and in practically every taquería, they’re easier to make than you think. Essentially, using any fruit you have in the fridge, peel/chop/seed it, puree it in the blender, strain it over a pitcher, add cold water, ice and sugar, and enjoy your non-caffeinated and fruity concoction. Some of the most popular recipes are agua de fresa (strawberry), jamaica (hibiscus flower), horchata (rice with cinnamon), sandía (watermelon), tamarindo (tamarind), and limón (lemon).
Because of its simplicity, it’s easy to experiment with aguas frescas recipes and come up with something that challenges the beverage norm. Daniel Gutiérrez, a chef at the Sontera Country Club, shared this recipe with a bit of advice: “The key to making aguas frescas is really preference. Like if you want yours less pulpy, add more water. If you want it sweeter, add more sugar. If you want no pulp, then strain it. It’s really up to you.”
The cucumber fresca, for example, doesn’t sound so appealing despite cucumber’s delicious aroma and taste when drenched in chili powder, but once you try you’ll know why it exists.
• 1 to 2 cucumbers
After you peel and chop the cucumbers, toss them in the blender until they’re pureed. Add water and sugar to what’s left of the cucumbers and voila, a sweet tasting Agua de Pepino.
One of the more interesting recipes I found on haztevegetariano.com was the Agua de Alfalfa, Limón y Piña (Alfalfa, Lemon, and Pineapple). Similar to Agua de Pepino, you just need to mix all of these in a blender and put it on ice.
• 2 cups alfalfa
• 3 lemons
• 4 slices pineapple
• 2 tablespoons corn syrup
• 1 cup ice
• 1/2 cup water
Mint was optional in the recipe I found, so following Gutiérrez’s advice you can add more or less of what suits your preference.
If you want to play it safe, SA native Bertha Coronado’s Strawberry Watermelon agua fresca uses more familiar summer ingredients.
• 2 cups seedless watermelon
• 2 cups strawberries
• ¼ cup sugar
• Crushed ice
Put the mix of pureed strawberries, watermelon, and sugar over crushed ice to enjoy. Coronado insists on not using water in this recipe because it waters down the flavor, but if you must, use about half as much of what the mixture amounts to. Sans water will leave you with an Icee-like fresca.
My mom and I decided to take a crack at it and see how long it takes for beginners to make an agua fresca using a mango we haven’t gotten around to eating yet. Including prep time it took about 20 minutes because we didn’t add enough water, making it harder to get the mixture through the strainer.
• 1 mango
• 3 cups water
• 1/2 teaspoon of honey or agave nectar
The end result was a refreshing water-based beverage with a hint of mango, a drink fitting of the name agua fresca. My mom included a shot of coconut rum in hers, which she said made all the difference. I wouldn’t know.