Saturday, July 14, 2012

Independencia + Agua Panela

With excitement and just a little bit of fear at the amount of manual labor that I know awaits me come the end of next week, I'd like to announce the next Rumba Tipo Colombia, programmed for next Friday, July 20th, Colombian Independence Day. This time we'll be having a traditional cumbia group opening for Felipe's salsa orchestra and lots of food, including lechona, arepas, and empanadas made by yours truly. If you're in Rio and would like to spend a night dancing Colombian-style salsa and brushing up on your Spanish with an extremely animated crowd, you should come join us! Tickets are being sold by email for R$15 (the address is below on the flyer); at the door they'll be R$25.

If you're not in Rio but would like to partake in something so Colombian that if you were to ask Colombians for a recipe they would stare at you blankly because they consider it too damn obvious (like asking an American for a recipe to make PB&J), allow me to introduce you to agua panela con limón, particularly appropriate for the season given that all I hear about on the news from the Northern Hemisphere is how freaking hot it is right now (here, too: we're in the middle of "winter" and it was 90 degrees the other day). Agua panela is a drink made by boiling panela (unprocessed cane sugar) with water; in hot weather, it's served over ice with lime juice, making for an extremely refreshing lemonade-like drink.

A friend of mine from Pasto, where  the average temperatures are much cooler than the like of Cali and the Caribbean coast, adds cinnamon and clove to his, an addition I find really lovely.

Though most people make agua panela con limón and stick it in the fridge for later, I lack the planning-ahead gene, so I find it much easier to make a thin syrup that I can then use immediately by mixing it with cold water and serving it over ice (or just by serving it directly over a bunch of ice that will melt and dilute the syrup-- kind of like the Japanese iced coffee method here, but way less technical, ha). Conversely, agua panela served steaming hot is every Colombian mother's remedy for sickness or just to take the edge off chilly nights, especially with a couple of slices of fresh ginger thrown in.

Agua Panela con Limón

4 oz. panela (also sold as rapadura), in big chunks or grated (unless you've already bought it pre-grated, sold as "panela instantanea", it's really not necessary to grate it here)
cinnamon stick, 4 cloves (optional)
1 lime
cold water 

Place the panela in a small pot along with 6 oz. of water and the cinnamon and cloves, if using. Bring to a low boil and let simmer until the panela has completely dissolved, about 5 minutes (depending on how big your chunks are; instant panela will dissolve much faster-- thus the name); you will have a very thin syrup. Take off the heat and let cool for as long as you like (I use it immediately-- as I said, poor planning skills). Stir 3-4 Tbsp. of the syrup with 5-6 oz. of cold water (depending on how sweet/strong you want it) and a couple big squeezes of lime juice (about 1/4 lime per cup), pour into a glass over ice. Repeat with the rest of the syrup. Makes 3-4 servings.
For agua panela served hot, boil 4 oz. panela with 32 oz. (4 cups of water) and any additional spices, simmering until the panela dissolves. Serve hot, with a squeeze of lime juice if you like.


  1. Hi Eva - just a quick note to say THANKS! The arepas worked out *really* well! I have been walking around with a happy arepa face for the last couple of days! I wrote a post about it:

    Thanks again - I will look out for you on Friday :)

  2. Hey Tom! Thanks for letting me know, I`m so glad they worked out, your arepas look great! (I always worry that what works for me in my kitchen might not work for other people, you know?) Definitely come over and say hi on Friday! I´ll be next to the roasted pig head :)

  3. I don't know how I feel about this drink. Scares me a little ;)

  4. Haha...that was my initial reaction as well when I saw it being made ( you're basically making brown sugar water?) I love it now, though, and I was surprised that it's not made in Brazil given the amount of rapadura around.