Jamaica iced tea

Jamaica iced tea is tea is everywhere in Mexico — in almost every restaurant, offered by many street stands, in large, glass jars in the markets. The grocery stores sell jamaica (ha-MY-ka) by the bag full, and bulk herb and grain stores sell it loose. It is always served cold with plenty of ice, and in Mexico it is also served overly sweet, like red liquid candy. If we order it with a meal, we only order one and a glass of ice water. A few tosses back and forth between the two glasses, and we have two ruby drinks that are half as sweet, but still refreshing.

If you order this colorful drink in Mexico, don’t ask for  de Jamaica, as I once did, only to be corrected. Ask for agua de jamaica. Apparently, a tea is a hot drink, and an agua (water) is served cold.

Known as hibiscus in English, and flor de jamaica in Mexico, jamaica/hibiscus is the herb that gives some Celestial Seasonings teas the bright red color and a slightly bitter flavor. If you drink Red Zinger tea, you are drinking hibiscus flowers.

The stronger the brew, the more noticeable the bitter flavor, which leads to more sugar added to mask the bitterness. This recipe uses less jamaica, but it needs less sugar because the bitterness is minimized. Iced jamaica tea can be mixed with fruit juice, like mango nectar, though I have never seen it served with juice in Mexico. In Mexico, don’t ask for té de jamaica — ask for agua (water) de jamaica.

Hibiscus tea is made from one particular plant, Hibiscus sabdariffa. It doesn’t grow in our yard, but another hibiscus blooming outside (below) is just as red, though not for used for tea. The tea is not made from the petals, something I used to think until I learned that it is the part of the flower around the petals, the sepals, that are used for tea .

Jamaica Iced Tea — Agua de Jamaica

  1. Bring two cups of water to a boil.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of lightly packed jamaica/hibiscus.
  3. Turn off  heat and brew for 3-5 minutes. Strain, discarding jamaica.
  4. Stir in 2 tablespoons of sugar, or to taste.
  5. Add 2 cups of cold water or fruit juice.
  6. Pour over ice and serve.

Makes one quart.

Post Script: As my readers have reminded me in their comments below, this tea is also delightful without sugar.

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Chiles en nogada with fresh fruit

If you have missed me, I’ve missed you, too, but it’s just been too hot to be in the kitchen this summer. El Día de la Independencia, September 16, brought me back from the brink of forgetting that I even have a food blog. Chiles en nogada, the traditional dish served for Mexican Independence Day, helped reacquaint me with mi cocina mexicana.

A year ago, I featured Chiles en Nogada the way they are traditionally made in Mexico — with dried fruit. For something different, this recipe features fresh fruit instead of dried, with a golden delicious apple and a sweet, juicy peach. I think plums and pears would be great in this, also. With all the beautiful fruit in the markets this month, the possibilities are endless.

My taster-in-residence says these chiles en nogada are delicious, but for a real test, he would need to taste them side by side with the dried fruit version. At least that’s what I think he said between mouthfuls of stuffed poblano. His sly smile means he really wants me to make more, with either dried or fresh fruit. He’s not particular.

Chiles en nogada are usually garnished with pomegranate seeds, something hard to come by in our little town. I substituted an unusual fruit, Natal plum (Carissa macrocarpa), that grows in our yard. Its color replicates the pomegranate seeds, but its flavor resembles a sweet cranberry. If you are in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle and walk along the Marina Riviera Nayarit, you will see hundreds of Natal plum bushes lining the walk-way, bright with aromatic white flours and red, little plum-like fruit.

The word nogada is Spanish for “sauce of pounded walnuts”, according to Cassell’s Spanish Dictionary. The creamy, white walnut sauce adds a mellowness all of its own. Don’t bother trying to peel the walnuts, as many recipes recommend. It is too tedious a chore and really not necessary.

Chiles en Nogada with Fresh Fruit
  • 6 poblano chiles
  • 3 medium tomatoes (.75 lb./340 grams)
  • 1 medium onion (6-7 oz./220 grams)
  • 1 lb. (1/2 kilo) ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup (1 oz./30 grams) finely chopped walnuts or sliced almonds
  • 1 apple, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 peach, finely chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 ml.) ground cinnamon
  •  1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups (360 ml.) crema (Mexican sour cream), crème fraîche or sour cream
  • 3/4 cup (180 ml.) walnut meat
  • salt to taste
  • pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)
  1. Roast and peel poblano chiles. Carefully slit down center and remove seeds. Set aside.
  2. Roast and peel tomatoes. Squeeze out juice, reserving the liquid. Finely chop tomatoes. Set aside.
  3. Saute onion and garlic until tender.
  4. Add ground meat and cook until no longer pink.
  5. Add tomatoes, 1/4 cup walnuts (0r almonds), fruit, bay leaves, cinnamon, oregano, salt and pepper and simmer for ten minutes. Do not allow to cook dry. Add reserved tomato juice or water to maintain some moisture. Remove bay leaves.
  6. To make the sauce, combine crema or sour cream and 3/4 cups walnuts in blender until smooth. Add a little milk if it is too thick. Salt to taste.
  7. Generously fill chiles, spoon walnut sauce over top, and garnish with pomegranate seeds.
  8. Serve hot, cold or room temperature.

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