It wasn't until I was an adult and living in Lima did I first encounter emoliente peruano. Once I found it, I obsessed about it not only while I was there but after I came back to the U.S. Emoliente is a tea, served either hot or lukewarm, made of medicinal herbs and seeds (flax seed, toasted barley, cola de caballo), cane sugar and lime juice at its base but can contain pineapple, and other types of fruit, herbs (alfalfa, uña de gato), sometimes spices (like cinnamon), or extracts (like wheat grass) to sustain you. It is known in Peru as "el desayuno cholo," or the Native's breakfast, as it has been prepared since Incan times (without the sugar and limes, of course, as those came with the Spanish!). Anytime I would travel to work in the morning I would find a street cart selling it, sometimes with small cheese sandwiches, and consume it right there on the street. Actually, the truth is, even in the evening if I saw an emoliente cart, I would buy some. The drink might be served in cups, but more often in a plastic bag with a straw. It was at once comforting and warming underneath the overcast skies and the winter drizzle that is constant in Lima's winter. It also filled me up and infused me with needed calories for my commute to work or home, taking place of the coffee I would have normally consumed had I been in the U.S. Tell you what: I didn't miss that coffee!
The first time I tried this incredibly tasty and nutritious beverage I was part of a large group of culinary students visiting a huge open market, called Mercado de Surquillo. Outside the entrance was a man with a small cart selling two types of drinks, accompanied by a selection of cheese sandwiches and loaves of bread. There were two containers -- one contained classic emoliente with flax seed and other herbs, the other was an emoliente made with quinoa. Some carts, like the one pictured above are a bit larger and can carry various types of hot beverages. The one we encountered was much, much smaller. My friend chose the quinoa and I chose the classic. Because the drinks are made with flax seed, and depending on how much is used, the texture of the liquid can be more or less gelatinous. That first moment I was taken aback as I was not expecting it, but the more I drank the more accustomed I became to the rich, sweet, and tart flavors and textures of the tea. I fell in love. I also tried my friend's quinoa emoliente, which was equally as yummy but contained an even more varied texture by way of the little popped seeds of the quinoa. (I'll save that recipe for a future post!)
Emoliente, depending on the ingredients used in making it, can give our bodies needed nutrition and calories. Flax seed is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. The toasted barley is a great source of some types of vitamin B and vitamin K as well as folic acid, phosphorous, magnesium, and potassium. Even more it contains trace elements of iron, sulfur, copper, zinc, manganese, chromium, selenium, and iodine. Cola de caballo, or Horse's Tail, is a diuretic known to assist in eliminating toxins in our bodies, including urinary tract infections, rashes on the skin from toxins, water retention and it even helps to strengthen your nails. Lime juice gives us vitamin C. Quinoa, as we know, is an excellent source of protein.
What I'm sharing with you today is a basic recipe of emoliente. You can sometimes find prepackaged Emoliente in a Latin American store (as pictured here -- this was taken in Peru in 2011). The classic would also contain a little alfalfa and boldo (tree from the Andes) or Llantén (plantain leaf). I was unable to find these ingredients in my local bodega but even without them, it still tastes great and has wonderful medicinal and nutritional properties! Once you get the basic recipe down you can add other things to your liking, like spices or skipping the sugar all together and just letting fruit be the natural sweetener. Salud, amig@s!
Emoliente peruano -- serves 8-10
1/4-1/3 cup flax seed
1/4-1/3 cup toasted barley
Small bunch Cola de caballo (horse's tail)
10-12 cups water
Sugar to taste (I used about a 1/3 cup this time)
Lime juice to taste, freshly squeezed (I used 5 this time)
In a large stock pot, add water and all herbs and seeds.
Bring to a boil then let lower the heat to medium. Allow to steep for 30 minutes.
Remove from heat and strain.
Add sugar and lime juice.
Note: You can serve with small cheese sandwiches or just crackers. In the main product photo I used Portuguese bread and queso fresco (farmer's cheese) in my sandwiches, but it would be any kind of bread, crackers or cheese that you like!