Aguas frescas, or "fresh waters," are light, cooling fruit drinks so magically refreshing it's clear why they're the unofficial thirst-quencher of Latin America.
In their purest form, agua frescas are simply blended fruit, water, and a little lime - the essence of summer fruit, sipped through a straw. Adding an herb-infused simple syrup (and maybe a splash of vodka) opens a world of inventive flavor possibilities.
The key is to use the ripest fruit you can find. Taking my cue from the agua fresca vendors around New York this week, that meant watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew, with pineapple, mango and peach appearing later in the summer.
Simply throw your fruit of choice in a blender with some water, sweeten to taste and serve. If you're working with a fibrous fruit like pineapple (or if you're the type of person that buys pulp-free OJ), go ahead and strain after blending, but you'll lose the lovely froth.
Using simple syrup is an optional step - you could easily swap in honey or agave nectar. But making the syrup is quick, and lets you get creative. After the syrup has come to a boil and the sugar has completely dissolved, throw in your favorite herb, like mint, basil, and lavender. Fifteen minutes later, you'll have a delicate, fragrant infusion for a signature agua fresca.
Watermelon-Lime Agua Fresca
2 pounds seedless watermelon (1/8th of a good-size watermelon)
1 cup cold water
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup or agave nectar
Honeydew-Basil Agua Fresca
2 cups cold water
4 teaspoons lime juice
2 tablespoons basil-infused simple syrup or agave nectar
For the simple syrup: Mix 1/4 cup water with 1/4 cup sugar. Bring to boil over medium-low heat and simmer, without stirring, until all sugar is dissolved (about three minutes). Remove from heat, add 1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (I used lemon basil for its fantastic citrus scent, but you could also use regular basil or mint). Let steep for 15 minutes until flavor has infused the syrup.
Blend all ingredients, adjusting sweetness as needed. Strain through a mesh strainer or cheesecloth (optional). Serve over ice.
(Images: Liz Vidyarthi)