Grabbing a bite at the local taquería means two things: I’m eating a chicken burrito—hold the sour cream—and drinking an icy cold glass of horchata. A traditional Mexican street drink, horchata is often rice-based, though recipes vary throughout the Spanish-speaking world. Some are made with tiger nuts, almonds, or seeds; some are dairy-free; others are without nuts at all. In any case, horchata is the perfect complement to vibrant and spicy Mexican cuisine.
It was on a whim one day that I ordered horchata. But after my first sip I was hooked. Immediately, I was struck by the pleasant nutty flavor and bright notes of vanilla and cinnamon. It reminded me of a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch—my favorite cereal growing up. It’s like the leftover cereal milk, but (much) better.
A quick, online search of the drink turned up several pages of viable recipes, but I was looking for something specific—a sweet version, perfumed by vanilla and warm cinnamon, that included both almonds and rice (as tradition instructs). Almonds give the beverage its creaminess, and rice thickens it. After pureeing and straining it, I stirred in some evaporated milk to boost its smoothness. Using evaporated as opposed to sweetened condensed milk allowed me—and anyone else preparing this recipe—to sweeten the beverage based on preference.
And there you have it—horchata made easy. It just takes time—the ingredients need to soak so the flavors meld. The longer the rice and almonds steep, the more brightly flavored the final product will be. So if you can wait, let the mixture stand overnight. Your solitary burrito will never be the same.
Grab a medium-sized bowl and combine the rice, almonds, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. I use whole blanched almonds, but slivered will also work.
To that, add water then cover and let stand overnight or up to 24 hours. The longer the mixture stands, the deeper the flavor will be.
After the overnight soak, pour the contents of the bowl into a blender and give it a whirl.
Once blended, pour the rice-almond mixture into a fine-mesh strainer lined with at least three layers of cheesecloth. Don’t skimp on the cheesecloth or else your horchata will be gritty.
Once the liquid has passed through the cloth and strainer—be patient, this may take a few minutes—gather the edges of the cheesecloth to form a pouch and give it a good squeeze to extract all the liquid.
Add the evaporated milk, which adds creaminess, and sugar, depending on your desired level of sweetness. I like it on the sweet side, but you can always dial back the amount of sugar to your liking. Then, give the mixture a good stir to combine all of the ingredients and dissolve the sugar.
Chill and serve over ice. I like to add a touch of cinnamon for color.