AGUA FRESCA: LIMÓN CON CHIA
Lime & chia seed cordial
Aguas frescas are cold, nonalcoholic drinks consisting of water flavored with fruits, flowers, grains and sugar. While these colorful refreshments are served all over Mexico, they are particularly popular in Oaxaca, due to the seasonal heat and prevalence of fruits. Of the many flavors, one of the most refreshing is limón con chia (lime with chia seeds) and Señora Irinea Valera’s stall, Aguas Frescas Casilda, sells gallons of it weekly.
Valera’s family has been running the stall since 1926, after her grandmother, Casilda, started it as a 16-year-old. “Because there was no ice, they used to keep the aguas [water] cool in ollas [large clay jugs] that were immersed into damp sand in a wooden pan. They started with three flavors only, one was limón con chia. My aunt and grandmother added flavors: jamaica [hibiscus flower], tamarindo [tamarind], sandía [watermelon], ciruela [plum] and zapote [fruit native to Mexico],” she says. Today, Aguas Frescas Casilda serves around 20 flavors, or 30 to 35 with combinations.
Some believe flavored water originated with the Aztecs, who used a water and mashed fruit combination to sustain themselves on long journeys. Valera says that for years fruit drinks have been important to religious occasions, particularly Easter. “It’s a tradition here during Semana Santa [Easter Holy Week] to gift the church with water.” This is based on the Biblical story of a young woman who tried to give Jesus a drink of water on the way to the cross.
“But people also drink aguas frescas at any time because they like it. It’s very popular in the afternoons when they’re in the market to eat. And of course, in the hot weather – March, April, May. And Saturday is busy with the people who come from the pueblos [surrounding villages],” Valera says. The limón con chia may not be as colorful as the other aguas frescas flavors, but it’s guaranteed to quench a thirst.
Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes (not including three-hour soaking of limes)
4 cups water, for soaking limes 2 quarts water, for the drink
3½ oz. chia seeds
½ cup water, for soaking chia seeds sugar, to taste ice, to serve
1. Wash the limes, put in a large dish and cover them in water. Leave to soak for around three hours (this makes it easier to grate them). Discard this water.
2. Grate the limes over a bowl, ensuring you don’t get too much of the pith, and capture the small amount of juice that might escape as you do this. (In Mexico this is done in a chirmolera – a special pottery grinding bowl – but a normal grater is fine.) Put the zested whole limes aside.
3. Strain the lime zest through a muslin cloth. (You may have to squeeze it a little at this point to extract juice.) Discard the lime zest and keep the small amount of juice.
4. Pour 2 quarts water into a jug. Add the small amount of lime juice and sugar to taste.
5. Prepare the chia seeds by soaking them for about five minutes in a little water to soften them. 6. Drain the chia seeds and stir them into the lime and water mixture.
7. Add ice as desired, and serve.