Why hello there, and bienvenidos to Kitchen Catastrophes, where things going right is technically right. I’m your paradoxical professor, Jon O’Guin. Today’s recipe is something I’m quite excited for, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But as summer sets in, it’s time for something cool and refreshing to quench your thirst. And that’s why we’re making horchata! If all you want is a horchata-how-to, then cut the chatter and get to the point here, otherwise let’s go for a stroll.
Horchata is not, as some might crudely suggest, what they call it when ladies of the evening gossip, but instead a creamy, plant-based beverage from Spain and Latin America. Why am I so excited to make it? Is it easy? And will it blend? These questions and more will definitely be answered.
My First Impulse was to make a joke about Guantanamo here.
Well, that’s what they make SECOND thoughts for, Title Jon. And as under-explored as the Santana/Human Rights Violations overlap is for comedy, we’ll leave that semantic spelunking for another day. Today, we’re going to talk Horchata.
Horchata, in case you don’t know, is a type of Latin beverage. I personally had assumed it to be from the indigenous peoples of South America, as it can also be written orxata, and those dudes LOVED Xs, TL sounds, and other linguistic twists. But no, it turns out it’s from Spain. And before that, potentially Rome. The name Horchata comes from Hordeata, a Latin name for a group of grain-based beverages, named for Hordeum, the Latin for Barley. So really, Horchata is basically Spanish/Latin for “Barley Water”.
Which is one of many pale beverages I have on hand, for some reason.
More broadly, it’s basically the Classical-Medieval-Renaissance-Age of Exploration versus of plant milk: a group of drinks made to give some protein and flavor, without wasting precious animal resources. In Spain, the drink was often made with chufa, a plant that grows in drier, warmer regions, such as Egypt, Spain, and California. It’s also called Tiger nut, earth almond, and ‘edible galingale’, because there’s nothing that makes me less worried about a plant than knowing its name is “the EDIBLE one”. They’re a type of sedge, which we BRIEFLY referenced before in our Spinach Dip post, as water chestnuts are another type of sedge. So is the ‘sedgegrass’ that shows up in a lot of Western stories, obviously. Anywho, Spainards were making horchata, they came to South America, very politely asked the people there to start doing things their way, and everyone immediately agreed and nothing particularly distressing happened.
Look at those baby blues? Could this guy be a genocidal conquerer?
However, it turns out that chufa doesn’t grow in the humid tropics of Latin America, so they turned to other sources. And OTHER sources. And OTHER SOURCES. Yeah, while I thought I knew what horchata was, it turns out I’m only really familiar with horchata de arroz, or “rice horchata”. There’s also horchata de almendras or “almond horchata”, “melon seed horchata”, “sesame seed horchata”. Hell, apparently in Ecuador, horchata is a fairly bright red herbal tea, made with rose petals, violets, lemongrass, mint, lemon verbena, and a shit ton of other ingredients.
Now, I’ve had a soft spot for horchata for a while now. I almost always order it if it’s on the menu at a new Mexican restaurant I go to. I don’t know exactly when this kicked it: I EITHER picked up the habit in Reno (which, of all the habits I COULD have picked up, is probably straight up the best one) during a college theatre festival, where I could get like, a quart of the stuff for 2-3 dollars at a restaurant across the street from my hotel. I might have also tried it apropos of nothing at an AM-PM a block or two from my house, I have conflicting memories. I think the Reno trip was first, and then I discovered the AM-PM had it.
In any case, I’ve considered making the stuff for a while now, because it’s actually quite easy. It just also takes a hell of a time. Luckily, I ended up with some time on my hands this weekend: my mother and Nathan left town to help a member of our family, while I stayed home to play nursemaid to our chicken Red.
Seen here plotting her vengeance against the forces of good and justice.
As such, I was home alone, with no one to tell me what to do, so I did NOTHING all day! Which is how I ended up starting these recipes at LITERALLY MIDNIGHT.
IN the dark of the night
cooking will find him (find him)
in the dark of the night
Horchata will rule (ooo-ooo-ooole)
Why the plural? Glad you asked!
Two’s Company, But Three’s Too Many to Fit on a Bed
Don’t think that’s how that saying goes, and it’s only true for us because we’re literally 2 feet across, Title Jon. Normal people can fit 3 to a full with no problem.
Night-time arrangements aside, the fact was that, frankly, I didn’t know what made a good horchata. Sure, I’ve DRUNK a lot of horchata, but it’s not like I quizzed every restaurant on their methods. Also, most horchata recipes are like, 4 ingredients and 3 steps: “Soak rice, cinnamon, and other shit in water overnight. Blend and strain. Chill and serve.” And water BARELY counts as an ingredient. As such, I figured we could mix in a little taste-testing too.
Anything to pump some excitement into these things.
I grabbed 3 recipes. One is from Thug Kitchen, a plant-based blog with several cookbooks to its name. Funnily enough, It took me reading like, half-a-dozen recipes of theirs before I noticed the plant-based thing: I thought their entire schtick was writing their recipes ‘like a thug’. “Mix that shit up good”, “now it’s time to kick this motherfucker up a notch” and “this should be smelling pretty goddamn good right now” are all REAL sentences in their recipes. Their tagline is “food so good, we swear by it”, and they DELIVER. The Second recipe is from Roy Choi’s cookbook, LA Son. Roy Choi is the chef who started Kogi, the Korean taco truck that is often viewed as blowing open the doors on the modern gourmet food truck scene. The last one I snagged from another food blog, “Follow Me Foodie”, based off a recipe from Rick Bayless. Bayless is a man who has been writing about and cooking Mexican food for DECADES, so I figured his recipe would be nice to snag.
Now, to begin, all three of these recipes are, at their base, standard modern Mexican horchatas, which means they use a MIX of rice and almonds for the base. However, all three of them go about it in different ways. In fact, all three of them use DIFFERENT RICES, they’re so un-coordinated.
This is a….RICE old mess, eh, guv’ner?
Thug Kitchen’s is, somewhat surprisingly, (and yet also somewhat unsurprisingly), the most…’hippy granola’ of the bunch. It’s also the easiest. You take explicitly RAW almonds, as well as brown rice, a stick of cinnamon, and water. You soak it overnight, blend it with some sweetener, bing bang boom. Now, this recipe calls for rinsed brown rice, as most recipes require you to wash off the starches from the outside of dry rice. Normally this takes a couple times rinsing and tossing, until the water…runs…clear…Huh. This shit did it basically on like, the FIRST go. Maybe brown rice doesn’t have the same starch issue. Anyway, through your wet rice, raw almonds, and stick of cinnamon in a tub, and let them sit overnight.
Look at that line-up.
Now, I won’t lie, I was a little worried about the Thug Kitchen recipe. Most horchatas that I drink are, well, pretty damn white. They straight up LOOK like milk with a little foam and cinnamon. And between the skin-on raw almonds and the brown rice, I thought it was going to come out murkier than the prospects of a Phoenix university graduate. So I was more hopeful looking at the ingredients of the Follow Me Foodie recipe, which used blanched almonds and white rice, either medium or long-grain. Since Roy’s recipe explicitly called for long grain, I decided to use medium grain in this one. You DON’T rinse this rice, instead just mixing it with blanched almonds (actually more almonds than rice, in an interesting twist), and another stick of cinnamon in a quart of water to soak. And THIS one had the murky rice water I was expecting to see as I rinsed the brown rice.
The swamp of softness.
Roy Choi’s recipe actually DOESN’T soak overnight, so I was already done with my midnight milk prep. TIME TO FAST-FORWARD TO THE NEXT AFTERNOON. I did this by sleeping, but you can do it with whatever means of wasting evenings you prefer.
DAWN OF THE SECOND DAY, HORCHATA REMAINING.
The next day, we start with Choi’s recipe, because at this juncture, the other two recipes should take like, 10 minutes to finish. Again, we’re at the “Alright, now blend that shit up, strain it, and serve it” portion. It’d take less time, but I have to keep washing out my blender between batches.
Choi’s recipe starts weird to me, and never stops being weird. Actually, that’s not true. It’s the ONLY recipe that uses rinsed white rice, so it actually STARTS the most normal to me, and then almost immediately veers off the rails. Yes, it uses the same 3” stick of cinnamon the others use. And yes, that IS the exact measurement of all 3 recipes: a 3” stick of cinnamon.
Finally, a measurement that doesn’t make me feel inadequate.
But once past that, the ingredients are very different. The other two recipes used 2/3rds of a cup of almonds, and 5/4s of a cup of almonds to flavor their mix. This one uses 2 tablespoons. AKA 1/8th of a cup. That’s…not a lot of almonds. It uses the SAME AMOUNT of toasted sesame seeds. AND it uses Limes. The zest and juice of two limes goes into the batch. It’s…a weird one.
This almost looks like a container of yard clippings.
Then, you soak all of that for just 1 hour, blend it up, and soak it, blended, for another 3 hours. Meaning it takes half the soaking time, but spends a lot of it in mush form. And things haven’t Stopped being weird. I’ve mentioned the others are at a “blend, strain, chill and serve” stage. Not Roy’s. Roy’s goes “blend, soak, strain, SIMMER, Strain again, chill and serve”. Yes, you have to heat up the horchata mix, adding more ground cinnamon, some straight up actual milk, and 3/4s of a cup of sugar. Stir until the sugar dissolves, strain the already strained liquid, and let it cool.
I ran into some problems here because I used the simmering time of Choi’s recipe to process my other two. Thug Kitchen gets 1 tablespoon of agave sweetener and/or maple syrup as it’s blending, then you strain, add a half-cup of water, and chill. Follow Me Foodie’s uses a whole cup of sugar in the blending process, adds 2 cups of water, and then chills. Doing both batches, with the cleaning in between, took me like, 20 minutes.
Straining this stuff is easy, sure, but it’s also a touch annoying.
At which point I ran into a problem. The added liquid meant that Roy’s recipe couldn’t go back into its Tupperware, and we didn’t have any bigger ones. So it had to move to a pitcher, but it also had to be strained again. Now, in a perfect world I would have strained the mixture into the original Tupperware, then poured from the Tupperware into pitcher via a funnel. But I had literally JUST washed the Tupperware, and my family had returned from their trip and were now hurrying me along because, without consulting or discussing with me, they wanted to have dinner in the next 20 minutes. (In their defense, I thought the entirety of blending and mixing the horchatas would take 20 minutes, since I forgot Roy’s needed to simmer.) As such, I simply dropped a strainer over the pitcher mouth, and directly strained into it. And I only lost like, 3 tablespoons of horchata mix down the sides of the pitcher, so win-win in my book.
We went off to dinner, came back and played video games as a family (my mother quite enjoys Ultimate Chicken Horse on the Switch), and then we went for our taste test of the three mixes.
So, drum-roll please!
You haven’t seen the others yet, but let me tell you, this is visually indistinct from them, so my fears of the darkness were unfounded.
Both Nate and my mother acceded that they like horchatas normally, as a note. Everyone here was going in with an idea of what they liked, and what they wanted.
My mother immediately spit this out into the sink.
Not that it tasted terrible, she’s just used to much finer-strained horchatas, and the grittiness put her off.
Flavorwise, I think the health-conscious nature of this one undermined it. It TASTES ‘watery’ and ‘weak’. Texture wise it’s pretty close to the others, but the flavors aren’t there. I blame the sweetener. The other two recipes use 3/4s of a cup and a straight CUP of sugar for their 5-6 cups of liquid. This one uses ONE TABLESPOON. Agave syrup is supposedly 1.5 times sweeter than sugar, but by that math, we should STILL have another SEVEN tablespoons in this batch. Which, unfortunately, we don’t have that much agave lying around. I’ll try and pick some up and see if it improves it.
If anything, THIS is the darkest horchata, thanks to the sesame seeds.
Starting with this horchata, I strained the doses my mother got AGAIN through cheesecloth, to minimize violent reactions.
And Roy’s horchata is fascinating, in a not entirely great way. Because the lime and sesame comes through a lot stronger than the cinnamon or almonds. Which is kind of fascinating, since this recipe has the MOST cinnamon.
Nate immediately noted the citrus element, but he couldn’t pick out which citrus it was. My mother noted that between it smelling kind of like peanut butter, and the lime flavor, it felt almost Thai to her. The general consensus was “it’s okay, maybe even pretty good as its own thing, but it’s not what I think horchata should taste like, so it’s disappointing in that regard.”
Follow Me Foodie
Seriously, if the containers didn’t look different, I’d have struggled to know which one is which.
No dissension here, this is what everyone felt horchata should taste like. It was instantly voted the favorite by mother and Nate on the first taste. Cool and creamy with a taste of cinnamon and an almost vanilla note, this one is the one we liked.
Which is why I used it to make myself a cocktail. What? My title was Horchata, FOUR ways. We only made 3 recipes. Now, I won’t lie, this isn’t the most inspired cocktail in the world. Hell, it’s not even technically CORRECT. I made a “Piña Horchata” cocktail, riffing off of the Piña colada. Which is, of course, a mixture of rum, coconut, and pineapple. Except I could not find our Coconut vodka, so I subbed in some Vanilla vodka. It’s pretty simple: one part vanilla vodka, one part pineapple vodka, to six parts Horchata. To even things out, I also used two parts Rumchata, a premade alcoholic horchata mix.
You can’t even tell that this COCKTAIL isn’t just more horchata.
The result was pretty enjoyable. I think it would be mellower over ice, but it has a distinctly tropical feel. The fruity, floral notes with a nip of alcohol behind the cinnamon really worked well together.
And that’s four horchatas whipped up in one day. Personally, as noted, we recommend the FMF recipe, but if you’re looking for a healthier or more complex version, the other two are capable entries. And if you need ways to punch up your party, a nip or two of the sauce wouldn’t go amiss.
LOOK, A PATREON LINK! And Links to our social media! Facebook, Twitter, Instagram! They’re all here, just as I promised they would be. I don’t have any fancy framing devices for them yet, but I DIDN’T PROMISE THAT.
THURSDAY: MAYBE A DISCUSSION OF CINNAMONS? I MEAN, THERE ARE A COUPLE, AND WE HAVEN’T TALKED ABOUT THEM BEFORE.
MONDAY: I’M A LITTLE DRUNK, SO FUTURE JON WILL HAVE TO TELL YOU.
Here's a slew of
HORCHATA 1, THUG KITCHEN METHOD
1 cup brown rice, rinsed
2/3 cup raw almonds
4 cups water
1 tbsp agave syrup or maple syrup
½ cup water
Soak the brown rice, almonds, cinnamon, and 4 cups water for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
Blend with syrup for 3-4 minutes on high speed.
Pass through a fine-mesh strainer into a container, stir in ½ cup water, chill and serve.
HORCHATA 2, Choi-mode
The soaking solution
1 cup long-grain white rice, rinsed
4 cups water
The juice and zest of 2 limes
1 3” stick cinnamon
2 tbsp blanched almonds
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
The simmering step
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup milk
¾ cup sugar.
Combine the Soaking solution ingredients and let soak 1 hour. Then blend the mixture and soak for an additional 3 hours.
Strain the mixture into a saucepan, adding the milk, cinnamon, and sugar, and heating over low heat until the sugar has completely dissolved.
Strain again, chill, and serve.
Horchata, FMF mode
2/3 cup medium or long grain rice
1 ¼ cup blanched almonds
1 3” stick of cinnamon
2 ½ cup hot water
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
Combine the rice, almonds, cinnamon, and hot water. Allow to soak overnight.
Blend on high for 3-4 minutes with the sugar. Strain into a pitcher, adding the water.
Chill and serve.
Piña Horchata cocktail
0.75 oz Pineapple vodka
0.75 oz coconut or vanilla vodka
1.5 oz rumchata
4.5 oz of preferred horchata.
Combine all ingredients in a glass, over ice if preferred.