Finally, I made a few batches of agua fresca, after thinking about it for years. I can't imagine what took me so long, since it comes together in minutes and is truly a great and unusual thirst quencher.
Agua fresca, or "fresh water," is ubiquitous in Mexico, and consists simply of water flavored with fruits, vegetables, nuts or seeds and lightly sweetened with sugar. Once you sample agua fresca, you'll wonder why we have limited ourselves to lemon and limeade in this country, especially since sweeter fruits require less added sugar.
To get an idea of the typical proportions for a classic cucumber agua fresca, I referred to "Paletas" by Fany Gerson, a fabulous book by a chef who grew up in Mexico. Once I had a jug of that beautiful green elixer in the fridge, I decided to apply the same process to a cantaloupe I had sitting on the counter. Ideally, you should use the freshest and juiciest of ingredients, but when I cut into the melon I discovered it wasn't as sweet as I had hoped (don't you hate that?). Happily, this turned out to be a good way to make use of it; with a little sugar and some lime it flavored the drink nicely.
Besides tasting light and refreshing, I love the way the sherbet-like colors add summertime cheer to the table.
Cucumber Agua Fresca (makes about 8 cups)
1 large cucumber (I used an English cucumber)
6 cups water
1/3 cup lime juice (2 - 3 limes)
1/3 cup sugar, or more if needed
Rinse the cucumber well. Leave the skin on, cut off about 1/2 inch from one end and rub the two flat surfaces against each other (this helps remove any bitterness). Discard the end piece and repeat with the other end.
Slice the cucumber, then put it in a blender. Add the water and blend until completely pureed. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a pitcher, then add the lime juice and sugar and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Taste and add more sugar if you like.
Refrigerate until completely chilled. Serve over ice.
Note: If you're unable to find unwaxed cucumbers I recommend using English cucumbers since you'll be using them peel and all.
*Recipe from Paletas by Fany Gerson
Cantaloupe Agua Fresca (makes about 6 cups)
5 cups water
juice of 2 limes
1/4 cup sugar, or more if needed
Peel and seed cantaloupe and cut into large chunks. Add to blender with the water and puree. If fruit and water mixture is very foamy, allow to sit 5 minutes or so until liquid settles out to bottom. Skim excess foam off the top and strain. Add lime juice and sugar to taste.