Get out the basket, because it’s picnic weather. My windows are thrown open and all the fans I own are whipping around the grass-scented fresh air to the tune of the roaring lawnmowers outside. I’m resisting the urge to turn on the air conditioning just yet. While there’s nothing more boring than discussing the weather, this year’s been a weird one, with an unseasonably warm winter, an unseasonably cold spring, and now, full on sticky summer. Luckily, the garbage lining the streets hasn’t yet started to stink. Ahhhh, life in New York City. No wonder it clears out once the temperature rises. And I have a few escapes planned myself, thanks to a couple of friends with pools in the ‘burbs and an upcoming trip to Iceland (!!). Tomorrow, I plan to pick up a few stalks of rhubarb at the green market and bring them out to one of said friends with a pool and bake us something sweet (this? this? or perhaps a variation on this?).
Anyway, I want to pass along a quick recipe for the hibiscus drink that I made a few weeks ago (spiked with alcohol) and have not been able to stop drinking (sans alcohol) as the mercury’s inched up. It’s an agua fresca (“fresh water”), traditionally a mix of fruit, flowers, or seeds with water and a little sugar served in Central America. I had my first sips of the fruity variety a few years back in Panama – one morning papaya, another morning watermelon – and since them have tended to make floral versions, almost like a lightly sweetened herbal iced tea, which more properly would be called a tisane or infusion.
I buy the flowers in tea bag form for ease and laziness, but you can always use dried flowers if you prefer and strain them out after steeping. No recipe is needed for these: 2-4 tea bags per quart of hot water (depending on how strong you want your tea), steep for a long time, add some sugar (or agave) to taste, and chill. Lavender works great (4 bags) and I love to drink a relaxing glass before bed. Also fresh mint, which is obviously not a flower. Next up: elder flower because I love St-Germaine.
My agua de jamaica, i.e., hibiscus drink, has a few more ingredients than flower + water + sugar. I like to add lime juice and blueberries – after a few hours, those berries are reminiscent of the fruit at the bottom of the sangria jug. You can also cold brew or add ginger and cinnamon.
Happy summering, all!
Hibiscus agua fresca
This recipe is incredibly easy, but you do need to prepare it far enough in advance to let the drink cool. When I made this for a crowd (6 quarts!), I boiled the flowers in a large pot and then stuck the whole thing in the freezer because my guest were arriving in less than 2 hours. Then I added the blueberries and poured it over glasses full of ice.
Hibiscus is pretty potent, so you don’t need to use too many tea bags. If you want your drink more of a spritzer, seep the tea bags in just 1 cup of water, pour the concentrate into a glass and fill with seltzer. You can also spike your drink with vodka, tequila, or gin.
Makes 1 quart
– 3 1/2 C water
– 1-2 T sugar
– 1 lime for juice (1 1/2 – 2 T)
– 1/2 C rinsed blueberries
Steep. Boil water and pour it over the tea bags and sugar in a pitcher that can withstand the heat (or use a pot). Let steep for 30 minutes. Remove bags.
Juice. Squeeze the lime into the infusion and taste for sweetness, adding more if necessary.
Chill. Allow the mix to come to room temperature and then put it into the fridge (or freezer) until very cold.
Serve. Once cold, add blueberries (the berries might get mushy if you put them in the infusion hot) and serve.