Mesa Rim Community Engagement Specialist, Fern Morales, muses on her youth, her favorite aguas and tostadas, and shares recipes for both.
By Fern Morales
I can still remember the first time I had a sip of jamaica. We were all at our annual Vera Family Reunion at a quaint Spanish-style hacienda in Mexico. We’d spent every summer there for as long as I could remember.
My mother’s side of the family took one weekend every summer to reunite at this incredible villa tucked away in the tiny town of Saltillo. It was a weekend to relax, catch up, share memories, and celebrate our very large and very tight-knit extended family.
The days were spent running through the expansive fields of grass, playing hide-and-seek in the vineyard trails, shouting “Marco! Polo!? in the pool, and lounging in the rustic, tv-less, adobe-tiled rooms.
The nights were filled with Mariachi serenades, twinkling garden lights, and intense domino matches with my grandfather (the all-time reigning champ).
Each moment was typically paired with an impossibly delicious meal or snack. Santa Fe-style dining tables featured the most extensive Mexican breakfast buffet. Mosaic table tops held plates of fresh-baked pan dulce and the most delectable apricot jam. Trays of perfectly scrambled eggs and spicy chilaquiles were flanked by large warmers stuffed with pillow-soft, fluffy, flour tortillas (their claim to fame).
Lunch and dinner were sit-down events with three incredible courses; Salads with the freshest ingredients and savory dressings, chile relleno with a creamy pomegranate sauce, and chocoflan to cap the dining experience. It was all served on colorful ceramic plates with embroidered cloth napkins and heavy cutlery. Everything was authentic, rare, and made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients.
But, whether they were serving the rich mole poblano with an array of salsas or the stuffed grape leaves and Oaxaca quesadillas, nothing rounded out the meals better than the aguas frescas.
Enormous glass pitchers dripping with the cool condensation of summer afternoons were filled to the brim with tangy tamarindo, luscious horchata, and tart jamaica. They always seemed to quench any thirst and each offered its own unique take on refreshing.
My favorite was agua de jamaica, which translates to hibiscus water. Tart enough to almost make you pucker, and sugary enough to satisfy a sweet craving, this flower-infused water was outstanding. After choosing the best room to relax in, the next order of business was always to fill a thick clay mug with this tasty drink.
As the family grew exponentially, getting away every summer became a little more complicated for everyone and weekend trips became more infrequent. When the foundational pillar and patriarch of the family, my grandfather, passed away, we stopped going altogether.
However, I still remember those warm family getaways fondly. The mornings were filled with scents of strong coffee wafting from hand-painted carafes; the nights were always sprinkled with soft rain showers that ended as quickly as they began; and all the seconds were filled with laughter and a true sense of closeness.
MAKE YOUR OWN JAMAICA
This nostalgic beverage is not only delicious, but easy to make! Most ingredients can be found at any grocery store; if you happen to be in San Diego, I recommend checking out Leon Produce in North Park. It’s a family-owned and local establishment. Everything is fresh and authentic. Plus, it’s next door to Señor Mangos! You can shop while you wait for an out-of-this-world torta or acai bowl!
AGUA DE JAMAICA (HIBISCUS WATER/TEA)
- 2 quarts water
- 2 cups Hibiscus flowers- make sure they’re pliable (fresh) and not brittle/cracking
- ¼ to 1 cup sugar—depends on how sweet you like it
- Pot for boiling
- Mason jars, if not serving immediately
- Place water in a large pot and add hibiscus flowers. Be sure to add the flowers to cold water.
- Bring water to boil. As soon as it boils, reduce heat to low and let it simmer for 10 minutes.
- After 10 minutes, turn off heat and allow the concentrate to cool.
- The flowers will absorb the water and sink to the bottom of the pot. Once they’ve all sunk, the concentrate will be ready!
- Pour the concentrate through a strainer to remove the flowers.
- Pour the concentrate into a glass pitcher and add sugar in ¼ cup increments, tasting each time. Stop when you’re satisfied with the flavor!
- Serve chilled or over ice.
- Jamaica is a naturally tart refreshment, so add sugar as you see fit! More standard proportions = ½ cup sugar per ⅓ concentrate
- For best storage, use sealed glass jars. Concentrate will keep for about 3 days in the refrigerator.
- Play around and add lime, mint, sparkling water, or tequila ; )
- Save the used leaves for a meat substitute! The texture is a lot like jackfruit. When seasoned properly, it’s a great savory, vegetarian option! Stay tuned for a tostada recipe!
- Leftover used hibiscus flowers
- 1 can refried black or pinto beans
- 1 can mild salsa casera (optional)
- ½ red onion (chopped)
- 8 mini bell peppers (chopped)
- 1 small head of Romaine lettuce (shredded)
- Tostadas (pack of 10)
- Olive oil
- Salt, pepper, cumin, and garlic powder
- Cotija cheese (small block)
- Sour cream
- Large pan for flowers
- Pot for beans
- Sharp knife
- Cutting board
- Bowls for staging
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a larger pan. Add chopped onion and cook until translucent. Bring to low heat.
- Add hibiscus flowers to onions and add the can of salsa casera, a pinch of cumin, a teaspoon of garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste.
- Allow the flavors to marry and keep warm before serving.
- Open can and place in a small pot. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a dash of cumin. Mix well and leave on low.
- Mix shredded lettuce with a teaspoon of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Place in a small bowl.
- Mix chopped mini bell peppers with salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. Place in a small bowl.
- Use avocado as a garnish or mash into guacamole.
- Grate cotija cheese into a small bowl.
- Create stations with all the topping bowls
- Grab a tostada and add a layer of beans
- Add a layer of hibiscus flowers
- Add the lettuce, bell peppers, avocado/guac, cotija cheese, sour cream, salsa, pickled carrots/jalapenos, etc.
- Tostadas are so versatile, so add whatever you like, however you like!
- The best ingredients can be found at Leon Produce in North Park. They have excellent full-fat sour cream, salsas, fresh produce.