The fourth installment of Is My Blog Burning?, initiated by Chez Pim, takes "Around the World in a Bowl of Rice" as its theme. Previous installments of the international online cooking event have focused on soup, tartines, and cake.
Each edition of Is My Blog Burning? has come to represent a challenge to make something new and, possibly, inventive. My first thought was to make arancini ("little oranges"), the Italian balls of rice that are stuffed with cheese and fried. I have never made them and always wanted to, but then visions of horchata flashed into my mind.
Mexican Horchata is a drink made from rice and (as I learned through this experience) almonds. It has the consistency and appearance of milk, but it is absolutely dairy-free. The thirst-quenching drink is commonplace in Mexican restaurants and taquerias in California, where I grew up, yet I rarely see the drink in New York City. I never thought about making it at home, but now I had the opportunity.
Searching for recipes online, I came across a variety of different methods. One recipe, from chef Zarela Martinez, involved boiling and simmering the rice and then letting it soak. Other approaches involved soaking whole grains of rice without any cooking at all. Yet another recipe suggested grinding the rice first before soaking. This technique, common to a number of the recipes I found, was the one I finally ended up using.
There were also a number of variations in flavoring the horchata. While some called for lime, others suggested adding vanilla. The idea of adding vanilla to the milk-like concoction sounded too good to pass up.
I ended up using a recipe by Gale Gand, with a few of my own modifications (less water, more sugar, and real vanilla bean).
Adapted from Gale Gand
1 cup long grain white rice
2 cups almonds, skins removed
2-inch piece of cinnamon bark
7 cups of water
3/4 cups of sugar
1 vanilla bean
Grind the rice into a fine powder (a coffee grinder works perfectly). Remove the skins of the almonds by blanching them in boiling water: Drop the almonds in boiling water, scoop them out after about 30 seconds, and after they have cooled, the almonds should squirt right out of their skins when pressed between thumb and forefinger. Combine the ground rice, blanched almonds, cinnamon, and the seeds that have been scraped out of one vanilla bean, with 3 1/2 cups of water and let sit overnight, covered.
The next day, pour the mixture into a blender and puree until smooth, adding the sugar and an additional 2 1/2 cups of water. Strain the Horchata using a strainer and cheesecloth. There will be a lot of solids. Press them against the cheesecloth-lined strainer to get out all of the liquid, but don't stop there. Pick up the cheesecloth to form a pouch and squeeze out every last drop with your hands. The final step is to add additional water to thin out the drink. The original recipe called for 2 cups, but I added only one. I liked the concentrated flavor, and I didn't want it to be too diluted.
BEFORE AND AFTER Rice, almonds, and cinnamon (above) combine with vanilla and sugar to make refreshing horchata (below).