I always thought horchata was safe for a lactose-intolerant person like me, since it’s traditionally made with rice milk. But more and more often, when I encounter horchata in L.A. and ask to make sure it’s dairy-free, the answer is no. In many cases, it contains evaporated milk, making it more like a shake than an aqua fresca.
A few days ago I read an article in the Food section of the Los Angeles Times that explains why: Even though real horchata doesn’t have dairy, “it’s easier, cheaper and involves less labor to use cow milk because you get that creamy texture without all the work of soaking, blending, then straining out the rice.”
Having just made my own horchata using a recipe printed in the article, I can say that it’s not that much work. The hardest part is remembering to make it a day ahead so it has time to soak. Straining the horchata isn’t a big deal if you have a good mesh strainer and some cheesecloth handy.
I’m grateful to live in an area where I can find things like Morelos rice and canela (Mexican cinnamon) in the international section of my supermarket. But if you can’t, just use long-grain white rice and regular cinnamon.
A popular variation in L.A. is the “dirty horchata,” a combination of horchata and espresso. I made my own version using half horchata and half Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, because that’s what I had on hand. It was delicious.
MORELOS RICE HORCHATA RECIPE (DAIRY-FREE)
Adapted from the Los Angeles Times
2 cups uncooked Morelos rice
1 stick canela (Mexican cinnamon)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup dark brown sugar or honey
4 cups filtered water
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Combine all the ingredients in a blender and purée on high for 30 seconds to break up the rice. Turn off the blender and refrigerate the mixture in the blender overnight, or at least 8 hours.
When ready to serve, re-blend the mixture. Pour it through a fine mesh strainer, then pour it through a layer of cheesecloth to remove any remaining sediment. Taste and add more sugar, if you like. Serve the horchata over ice and sprinkle with ground cinnamon to garnish. Makes 4 servings.