A couple of the items on our menu for the last Mujeres en la Cocina, were two beverages:
Agua de Jamaica (ha- MIKE-a) and Agua de Tamarindo.
Both of these drinks are popular all around town. Many of the 'carts' and stalls sell many different flavors of waters. Horchata is a rice, milk, and cinnamon blend. Often you can find Sandia or watermelon. Flavors vary with the season and what's available. Jamaica and tamarindo, coming from dried ingredients are available anytime.
Agua de Jamaica is made from the dried hibiscus flower. Basically you take a cup of dried flowers, available at every market usually in big bins, add it to about 4-6 cups of water. Bring it to a simmer for about 20 minutes. Cool, then strain the flowers out. Add sugar to taste, for this amount about 1/2 cup, or to taste. I've found that the NorteAmericanos tend to like it a bit on the tart side, the Mexicans prefer it a bit sweeter.
It's a beautiful red color and quite refreshing. It also has slight diuretic properties, is high in vitamin C and is beneficial to diabetics, use Stevia or sugar substitute if you desire.
Tamarind is a seed pod. It can also be found at the markets, or fruit stands. It's a brownish, dried pod that looks something like an overgrown bean pod/pea pod that's been allowed to dry up. It is a member of the legume family, and is used when green as well as fully ripened. The greener the pod, the tangier the taste. It is used all over the world in various ethnic preparations. I've seen it in Asian and Indian markets and is often in paste form. Quite often its a small sticky package about the size of a deck of cards or bigger.
For a beverage, you prepare the tamarind from the pods by removing the dried outer shell and the 'string' - very much like pea pods. Place the inside in a pan of water, again about 6 cups. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes. Let cool and then mash the pods. Some people will strain the pulp, but for our cooking lesson, it was left in the liquid. It made for a bit 'thicker' beverage. Tamarind tends to be tarter than jamaica, so a bit more sweetener is needed.
So, head on down to your local Mexican tienda and try some jamaica or tamarind for your next fiesta - hey, Cinco de Mayo! Maybe jamaica flavored margaritas! Enjoy