Agua de Jamaica

Sunday, October 26, 2014


What a week! Did you guys see the solar eclipse? Niki brought over a homemade viewer she fashioned from an old Riedel glass tube and some tinfoil. If you positioned it just right, with the tinfoil end pointed at the sun, and peeked through the square cut from one side to the inside of the other, you could catch a glimpse of a tiny crescent shaped sun under the thumb of the moon.

solar eclipse

My brother turned 29 this week, and next week my dad will turn 79. It has been years since we’ve celebrated either of their birthdays together, as we’re rarely in the same city at the same time. John is in Phoenix now, but my dad and I will go out to dinner in a few days with John in spirit. My dad’ll want to go to his favorite sports bar so he can hit on the prettiest female staff members while sharing a plate of loaded nachos. He’ll drink three, maybe four, frosted mugs of Michelob Golden Light. Depending on how busy they are, the ladies will either humor him or give a rushed hello, leaving him chuckling and me shaking my head, still wondering if I’ll ever reach a point where I won’t feel like bolting when he does this. He is a young 79, I remind myself, and that’s a very lucky thing.

I promised you the recipe for the Margarita of the Year, and today is the day. But first, we need to talk about agua frescas, the Mexican alternative to a lemonade stand on a sweltering afternoon. There are limitless combinations of agua fresca flavors: pineapple, cucumber, spinach and lime, watermelon, strawberry, various herbs and edible flowers. Agua de Jamaica is made with dried hibiscus flowers, sugar, and water. So simple. You steep the hibiscus flowers in water for about twenty or thirty minutes, and then you strain out the flowers and mix in some sugar so that you’re left with a tangy, concentrated syrup that looks like wine.

aguadejamaica1To make a hibiscus margarita, you make the syrup first. Then, you pour a glug of silver tequila, some Cointreau and fresh lime juice with some of the syrup over ice. Both recipes are from Roberto Santibanez’s book Taco’s, Tortas, and Tamales, which takes inspiration from Mexico’s streetside kitchens. People keep talking about hot cider and other spiced, wintry drinks, but as long as the weather holds out like it’s been doing in Minneapolis, so will I.

Agua de Jamaica (makes 8 tall glasses) from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales
2 cups (about 3 ounces) dried hibiscus flowers
3/4 to 1 cup sugar

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the hibiscus flowers, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the flowers steep for 20 or 30 minutes. Then strain the liquid through a sieve into a large pitcher, pressing the flowers to extract as much juice as possible. Discard the flowers, or save them to float in the pitcher when serving. Add the sugar and stir until it dissolves. **Stop here and chill the syrup for margaritas if making them. The syrup will keep for a week in the fridge.** Pour in 5 cups of water, stir, and season to taste with sugar. My friend Rocio suggested using sparkling water instead of flat, and less sugar (just 3/4 of a cup), and I liked it best this way.

Chill the pitcher in the fridge, then pour the agua fresca into ice-filled glasses or refrigerate for up to three days.

Margarita de Jamaica (Hibiscus Margarita) adapted from Tacos, Tortas, and Tamales
Hibiscus syrup  (see recipe above)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons silver tequila
1/2 cup Cointreau (or triple sec)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
ice cubes

Combine the tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, 1 1/2 cups of the hibiscus syrup, and 2 cups of ice in a pitcher. Stir well. Roberto recommends stirring for a full minute, and says it’s important that some of the ice dissolves in the drink. Then pour immediately into 6 glasses full of ice and rimmed with salt, if desired. Top with a few of the reserved hibiscus flowers.
aguadejamaica2 aguadejamaica4

  • Amanda Paa

    i love the description of you and your dad going out for his birthday. i wished john a happy birthday on facebook, hope he is doing well. on another note, this drink sounds so refreshing. and with a beautiful sunday like today, i think it would be quite splendid. xo

  • Mary Jo

    I’m so thirsty! That looks fantastic and would be a warm welcome here in the heat. I miss you terribly and will be with you and your dad in spirit. Sounds like a grand ol’ time. hugs.