Agua Fresca de Guanábana
Yield: Three 12-ounce servings (1 quart)
This recipe — so simple I'm almost embarrassed to use the word "recipe" — is meant as a general model for the many aguas frescas based on Oaxaca's wealth of tropical fruits.
Today some — though not all — of the fruits for the renowned Oaxacan aguas frescas can be bought in the form of frozen pulp imported from several Latin American countries. Look for these products in Latin and some southeast Asian markets, usually in 14-ounce plastic packets. The quality, though not on a par with fresh produce eaten in the regions where it's grown, is often better than that of the imported whole fruit. Among the varieties available are guava, mango, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, tamarind, and — one of my favorites — the seductive complex-flavored soursop, guanábana, a cherimoya relative that doesn't seem to have been discovered yet in the U.S.
Experiment with any or all of these by the method given here, adding the sugar a little at a time until it is to your taste. If the flavor seems a little flat, add a dash of lime juice.
1 package (14 ounces) frozen guanábana (soursop) pulp, thawed
2 - 2 1/2 cups cold water, or as needed
3-4 tablespoons granulated sugar, or to taste
Place the guanábana pulp in a 1-quart measuring cup and fill up with water to the 1-quart mark. Add the sugar 1 or 2 teaspoons at a time, tasting, until it achieves the desired sweetness. Stir to dissolve well. Chill thoroughly and serve over ice cubes.
Agua Fresca de Limón (Lime Drink)
Yield: Four 12-ounce servings (6 cups)
Mexican limes are small, with a thick, very dark green skin and a refreshing flavor that is close to that of a U.S. lime but not quite the same. Only the rind of the fruit is used in this simple Oaxacan favorite, which I learned to make from Lucila Zárate de Fuentes of Oaxaca City. Her version differs from some in that the grated lime is added only at the very last moment before serving. When the drink is allowed to sit for a while before serving it turns a wonderful green-yellow color, but also develops a slight bitterness that Lucila does not like.
I prefer to sweeten the drink with a sugar syrup, which seems mellower, but plain granulated and superfine sugar is an acceptable substitute.
6 cups cold water
1/2 cup Simple Syrup (below) or 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large dark-green limes
For Simple Syrup: Combine the 2 cups water and 1 cup granulated sugar in a small saucepan. Heat gently, stirring constantly, until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until reduced to 1 cup. Let cool to room temperature; store, refrigerated, in a tightly covered container.
In a pitcher, combine the water and syrup or sugar, stirring to make sure the sugar is well dissolved. Refrigerate until very cold.
Just before serving, grate the rind of the lime into the pitcher, being careful not to include any of the white part. Serve over ice cubes.
Agua Fresca de Chilacayota (Spaghetti Squash Drink)
Yield: 5-6 servings (about 2 quarts)
This is one of the most beloved aguas frescas in Oaxaca City. Be sure to use fresh pineapple — the canned fruit is much too sweet.
1 chilacayota or spaghetti squash, about 2 pounds
1 pound panela or piloncillo, coarsely chopped or broken into chunks, or 1 pound dark brown sugar
One 3-inch stick canela
2 quarts water
1/2 small ripe pineapple, peeled, core removed, and diced (about 1 1/2 to 2 cups)
Cut the unpeeled squash in half. Remove and discard the seeds and membranes; cut the unpeeled squash halves into two or three pieces. Place the squash in a large saucepan with the panela, canela, and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to maintain a simmer for 30 minutes, partly covered.
Lift out the cooked squash pieces; remove and discard the rind. Return the squash to the pan and mash the flesh with a wooden spoon or potato masher to help separate the filaments. Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate the squash and cooking liquid until very cold.
Just before serving, grate the rind of the lime into the chilled squash mixture, being careful not to include any of the white part. Stir to distribute it evenly. Divide the diced pineapple and the squash mixture among five or six 12-ounce serving glasses, placing about 1/3 cup of the pineapple at the bottom of each, adding ice cubes, and ladling the squash filaments and liquid on top. Oaxacans do not serve this with spoons, but don't hesitate to do so if you find it easier to negotiate.