When it comes to drinks, I almost always prefer the warm/hot variety to the cold. Even after a steamy yoga class or long run—or just a trip on the 1 train, which seems to always have the AC set on “energy saver” mode—ice-cold drinks tend to aggravate my stomach more than do any sort of quenching. But for most of this summer, thanks to some reroutings of my friend the 1 train, I found myself passing by a little pop-up drinks stand as I went to and from my class in Harlem. The lemonades and iced teas didn’t catch my attention at all, but a milky-white beverage labeled “horchata” did, despite its undeniably cold (and most likely not plant-based) nature.
Horchata is a traditional Mexican beverage made with rice and evaporated milk, and heavily sweetened with sugar. It’s a beloved and refreshing treat that usually pours freely on holidays like Cinco de Mayo, sort of like dessert in a glass or a fancy mocktail. I decided to make a vegan, and overall healthier version I could enjoy as a mini-treat during my #summerofchange, as well as to add variety to my plant-based milk arsenal. Rice milk itself is the best alternative for those with nut or soy allergies, and by making it with brown rice and a touch of natural sweetener (from dates) you get the benefits of complex carbohydrates and a bit more protein than usual. The antioxidant and caffeine boost of matcha is just one way to jazz up of the milk base, but other mix-ins like turmeric and cacao powders seem like equally fun and treat-like.
A common point of confusion and frustration about homemade milks is what to do with the pulp when you’re done—it can seem hugely wasteful to spend all that time, effort, and money on a drink that leaves you with a heap of grainy, often tasteless mush. I turned my rice pulp into an easy, creamy breakfast porridge akin to overnight oats or muesli. You can also experiment with drying and baking your pulp into crackers, or blending into cheese, which are techniques that can be used for nut milk pulp as well.
Vegan Matcha Horchata
- 1 cup brown basmati rice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 pitted dates or more if you prefer sweeter milk
- 1/2 tsp. matcha powder per glass
- Soak the rice, cinnamon sticks, and dates in enough water to cover overnight, at least 8 hours. The rice will be tender but not soft. When you're ready to blend, strain and discard the cinnamon sticks.
- Add rice and dates to a blender or food processor and blend for a few seconds first, just to break up the rice. Gradually add 3 cups of water, blending after each addition to prevent splashing until the liquid is smooth and slightly frothy. You can add additional sweetener (such as maple syrup), a pinch of pink Himalayan sea salt, and/or cinnamon at this stage to suit your taste.
- Fit a large-mouth glass jar with a piece of cheesecloth or an old pair of pantyhose to strain. Slowly pour the liquid through the strainer, squeezing the liquid through so that only the pulp remains in the cloth. This is sort of messy, so you may wish to set the glass inside another sturdy bowl or in the sink to catch all the liquid. Set aside the pulp in a separate container and refrigerate until ready to eat or prepare for another dish. Once all the liquid is strained, refrigerate the milk in a sealed jar to chill. Milk will stay fresh for 3-5 days, and you should shake the jar before serving.
- For the matcha variation, prepare a matcha tea base by whisking 1/2 tsp. dry powder in a glass jar to break up clumps. Add about 1/2 cup boiling water, and whisk to make tea. Chill for a few hours until ready to serve.
- Add ice to fill the jar, then pour about 1/2 cup (or more to suit taste) of the horchata into the glass. Cover tightly and shake to mix.