These Little Berries Make a Mighty Agua Fresca

July 18, 2017

Blueberries straight from the pint—does it get much better? Oh, it does. We partnered with the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council to share simple, flavorful recipes that are sweet, savory, and everything in between. Today: Agua fresca gets the blueberry treatment (and four more variations on the classic summer refresher).

Ten years ago while in San Francisco for a long weekend, I stumbled into the Primavera Mexican stand at the Ferry Building farmers market. What I devoured shortly thereafter reigns as one of the most memorable meals of all-time: guajillo chile chilaquiles (made from fresh corn masa tortillas) with scrambled eggs, refried beans, avocado, and queso cotija plus a hibiscus-lime agua fresca.

It was rich and spicy meets cool and floral. I dream of this meal often, and while chilaquiles rarely materialize at home, I make agua fresca often, especially in the summertime. Agua fresca, which means “cool or fresh water” in Spanish, is popular throughout Mexico and Central America, and couldn’t be simpler to make: Purée a little bit of fruit (or vegetables) with a lot of water (though classic agua frescas often include seeds, grains, and flowers, too). It barely, if at all, is thicker in consistency than water, and often includes fresh lime juice, which so nicely complements many fruits: mango, melon, papaya, pineapple, all of which are commonly used to flavor this light, refreshing drink.

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Blueberries make a great agua fresca. In addition to being sweet and juicy, they are particularly nice to work with by nature: unlike other fruits, they require no peeling, seeding, or coring—with just a quick rinse and pick over to remove any stems, they’re ready to be blended with the water, and served over ice. Here they’ve been flavored simply with agave syrup, fresh lime juice, and mint, though the seasonings can be adapted endlessly and tailored to preferences (see below).

Agua fresca in the making. Photo by Alexandra Stafford

A few tips:

For the water: Still water works just as well as sparkling, though the carbonation of bubbly water is particularly refreshing. Coconut water would add another level of flavor, complementary, too, to the blueberries, lime, and mint.

For the sweetner: Any number of sweeteners—sugar, brown sugar, honey, etc.—can be used to sweeten agua fresca, but agave syrup, which dissolves quickly, works particularly well. I like using light agave syrup for its neutral flavor though darker varieties, which will impart caramel notes, work fine, too.

Another nice option is coconut sugar, which looks like brown sugar and tastes like it, too, but without the hint of molasses. A note: If you use sugar, consider heating it with some (a cup or so) of the water to help it dissolve and therefore better incorporate into the final purée of fruit and water. (Do this with coconut sugar as well.)

Because the level of sweetness varies, it’s important to add the sweetener incrementally, and to adjust to taste. Some blueberries are just sweeter naturally, and very little additional sweetener is necessary for the agua fresca to taste balanced. If you do happen to add too much sugar, know you can adjust by diluting the purée with more water or fresh lime juice.

For the garnish: Never underestimate herbs. A sprig of mint, which can sometimes dominate when used in excess, will offer significant flavor when simply tucked into a drinking glass.

For when you want something boozy: While agua fresca is especially nice to offer as a non-alcoholic option when entertaining, it certainly could be spiked. Vodka is a natural choice for its neutral flavor, but cachaça, the Brazilian liquor used in capirihnas, would work well, too.

Four variations for all-year-long agua fresca:

Lavender: Steep a tablespoon of lavender in a cup of hot water along with the agave syrup (or other sweetener) for 10 minutes. Strain, then add this lavender simple syrup to your blend of fruit and water.

Basil or cilantro: Omit the mint, and purée a quarter cup of fresh basil or cilantro into the blueberries.

Ginger: Steep a few slices of ginger in a cup of hot water along with the agave syrup (or other sweetener) for 10 minutes. Strain, then add this ginger-infused simple syrup to your blend of fruit and water.

Jalapeño: While the blueberries purée, add a tablespoon of finely chopped jalapeño.

We partnered with the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council to bring you a slew of simple, flavorful recipes you can pop blueberries into easy-peasy. Get more recipes, ideas, and tips for blueberries here.

This article links to other articles not associated with the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.

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I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.