Somewhere near Slidell, Louisiana, not far from the shores of nearby Lake Ponchartrain, there is a small gas station with a rundown, rickety old shack attached. Looking like little more than a clapboard outhouse from a bygone era, this diminuitive shack is actually more than meets the eye. Or, it WAS more than meets the eye. I haven’t actually laid eyes on it since the summer of 2003 during a road trip through the Deep South with my Mother, cousin Rachel and Auntie Em (yes I have one, just like Dorothy!). Like so many roadside establishments throughout Mississippi and Louisiana, this little shack claimed to offer some of the “tastiest, freshest and most authentic hot tamales that you’ll find anywhere.” Or, something like that. On a trip that was largely dedicated to eating lots and lots of great Southern and Delta-derived foods, it was these little unassuming tamale shacks that seemed to have most piqued my interest. Decidedly un-Southern in its offerings, this one shack in particular offered a few things that I remember due to their bizarre and seemingly unrelated nature: tamales, French fries, beignets, chicory coffee, and horchata. Proudly advertised on the chalkboard bi-fold menu that was tee-pee’d below the shack’s small service window, this motley crew of menu items hit me as peculiar. That’s why I remember them, I suppose.
We had stopped for gas and there I sat in my passenger’s seat, staring out the window at the little shack. Staring. Staring. “Enough of this,” I thought to myself, and rather than continuing to stay put, I decided it was high time I stop my gander-necking (as my Grandmother would have said) and check out one of these tamale stops. Bested by my own curiosity, I was. It was August in Louisiana though, so you must understand why one would have such reservations about leaving a cooled vehicle in favor of the swampy, heavy, hot air that was literally dripping with humidity. No matter though. I’d decided it was time to investigate, and that was that. So I flip-flopped my way over to the shack and with hands planted firmly on hips and (sweaty) brow furrowed in concentration, I commenced reading the menu.
It took all of three seconds. I actually walked around the menu to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. Nope – five things. They only served five things, and what a bizarre five things they were. I felt like I was playing a childhood game of Memory as I absorbed their offerings. The tamales and horchata went together, in a clear nod to tex-Mex cuisine. Okay, got that one. The chicory coffee and beignets made a clear match, and were geographically apropos given our Louisiana whereabouts. But the French fries were sort of on their own, and I just figured that they were there obligatorily. Everyone loves French fries. They go with everything. They are the great equalizer.
I never actually ordered anything at this little roadside shanty, I’m bummed to report. By the time I’d processed the menu, the car’s tank was adequately filled. Bathroom breaks were over. My cousin had acquired her Hot Tamales of choice (the candy version). The road called! But I did leave with a new food term to chew on for a while. Horchata. Hor – cha – ta. It just feels good to say. Sounds like a dance you might do when you’ve had one too many tequilas. I had never tried horchata before, let alone heard of it at that point, but the idea of a drink made from strained and blended rice was so intriguing to me.
My horchata recipe, like that chalkboard shack menu, is an unlikely combination of tastes from different corners of the world. Japanese style matcha tea powder in a traditional Mexican rice milk beverage — strange bedfellows, but they work. I would like to believe that there is not another matcha horchata recipe in all the world. So maybe just don’t tell me if you already know of one. I’d like to continue entertaining the notion that I’m a culinary trailblazer …
Filled to the brim with healthy antioxidents and offering a burst of green color and earthy tea flavor, matcha has completely taken the food world by storm as of late. So, hello there bandwagon! Mind if I take a ride? Okay, so it is a bit of a trend, but a worthy one it seems. If you want to make a plain horchata, just leave the matcha out. I ordered mine here. Also, I use Arborio rice because its higher starch content adds creaminess to the drink. If you want to keep things traditional and/or vegan, you can substitute cool water for the half and half.
* Adapted from Emeril Lagasse
8 tablespoons rice (I use Arborio for its high starch content; adds creaminess)
1 cup blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon lime zest
5 teaspoons matcha powder
2.5 cups hot water, plus 2 cups cool water, divided
1 cup half and half
4 – 6 teaspoons granulated stevia (such as Truvia); to taste
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
DIRECTIONS: Add the rice to a blender and process until totally pulverized. Transfer the rice powder to a large bowl or pitcher and add the almonds, cinnamon, lime zest, and matcha. Add about 2.5 cups of hot water, cover, and let it stand overnight.
The next day, transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until everything is as smooth as you can get it. Add 2 cups of cool water and blend again until combined. Pour the mixture through a strainer lined with 3 layers of cheesecloth set over a bowl. Press on the solids and stir to help the mixture pass through the cloth. Transfer the horchata to a pitcher and add 1 cup half and half. Add the Stevia and vanilla extract. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold over ice.