Saturday, August 18, 2012


Summer coolers--leche merengada and horchata.
Stop at an heladería—ice-cream parlor—anywhere in Spain to find all the usual options—helados (ice creams) in dozens of flavors, sorbetes (sorbets) and granizados (granitas or slushy ices). Cold and sweet, they are summertime treats.

But, in Valencia, beautiful port city in eastern Spain, besides heladerías, you can enjoy some different summer coolers at an horchatería, where horchata and leche merengada, meringue milk, are served.

Chufas (photo courtesy of La Tienda).
Horchata is an exotic summer drink that makes me think of Arabic souks and cushioned harem rooms. This is the orgeat of the Moors, originally sweetened almond milk. Today it is made with the chufa, tigernut. (The word, orgeat, derives from the word for sweetened barley water. Horchata in Mexico is processed from rice or different seeds, not tigernuts.) The sweet, milky drink has a pleasant flavor of coconut, tropical nuts and lemon. It’s commercially  bottled, but can easily be made at home with either chufas or almonds.

Tigernuts, also called earth-nuts, are not actually nuts, but the tubers of a kind of sedge (Cyperus esculentus), a plant introduced to the Valencia region, along with rice, by the Moors. Like potatoes, chufas grow underground. After digging, the chufas are washed then dried. The desiccated  nuts, about the size of almonds, are hard and dark brown. (Photos of chufas growing in the fields and being processed can be viewed on the web site of Chufa de Valencia

Icy-cold horchata, made from chufas.
To process for making horchata, the chufas are first soaked in purified water for 24 hours to rehydrate them. They are then ground with fresh water, allowed to soak briefly, and pressed through a fine sieve. The resulting “milk” is sweetened with sugar, sometimes aromatized with lemon, and thinned with cold water.

The chufas, once soaked and softened, can also be eaten as snack food. They are often sold at ferias, alongside sliced coconut, as street treats. They have a crisp texture, somewhat like raw almonds.

A recipe for preparing horchata appears on the La Tienda   website, where you can order the authentic chufas, imported from Valencia.  

Horchata is served icy-cold as a drink; partially frozen and blended, as granizado, slushy ice, or soft-frozen as ice “cream”.

The other Valencian cooler is not nearly as exotic as horchata, yet still has the inimitable Spanish flavors of cinnamon and lemon. Leche merengada, or meringue milk ice, like horchata, can be served as a cold drink or soft-frozen. In restaurants, I have tasted rich versions of leche merengada, in which the milk is reduced by half, then enriched with cream. But, it’s delicious without the enrichments.

Soft-frozen meringue milk ice.
Meringue Milk Ice
Leche Merengada

My original recipe for meringue milk (in MY KITCHEN IN SPAIN, the book) calls for 1 cup of sugar. Today, that seems much too sweet to me. I suggest you start with ¾ cup sugar, then taste the sweetened milk and add more sugar if you want a really sweet version.

This recipe contains uncooked egg whites. If raw eggs are a possible health hazard in your area, use pasteurized egg whites.

Serves 6.

4 cups milk
¾ cup sugar
Peel from 2 lemons
2-inch cinnamon stick
1 clove
3 egg whites
½ teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Put the milk, sugar, lemon peel, cinnamon stick and clove in a pan. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Strain the milk into a metal bowl. Chill the milk.

Place the milk in the freezer until it is soft-frozen. Stir it occasionally to mix the frozen and liquid milk.

Beat the egg whites on high speed until they hold stiff peaks. Beat in the lemon juice.

Beat the soft-frozen milk at high speed until smooth. On low speed, beat in half of the egg whites. Fold in remaining egg whites by hand, mixing thoroughly.

Serve the ice meringue milk immediately or return it to the freezer to freeze slightly longer. It should be the consistency of soft-freeze ice cream. If allowed to hard-freeze, remove it from the freezer about 40 minutes before serving, so it begins to thaw.

Spoon the milk ice into goblets and sprinkle each with cinnamon.


  1. This is great! I had a coffee with leche merengada a few months ago but had no idea how the leche part was made. Thanks for the recipe!

    1. Cassandra: You're welcome! I've never had coffee with leche merengada in it. Cold coffee? Was the leche merengada frozen?

  2. That's called a Blanco y Negro. Iced coffee (or better yet granizado del cafe) topped with leche merengada. I like to alternate layers of granizado and leche in a tall glass.

    PS I'm a big fan and have many of your cookbooks.

    1. Brett: Thanks for the clarification about a Blanco y Negro. Obviously, I need to return to Valencia. Thanks for being a fan!