Deep purple in color and made from dried corn, non-alcoholic chicha morada (“purple beverage”) is undisputed as Peru´s iconic refreshing drink. Of humble Andean origins (and rich in antioxidants), it is consumed nowadays by people of all social classes and in almost all contexts in that country, from a quick drink-on-the-run at a market stall to an elegant state dinner. The flavor is slightly rustic, mildly sweet, and surprisingly invigorating due to the spices used in its preparation.
Nowadays it is easy to find bottled chicha morada and/or powered mixes for preparing the drink in U.S. supermarkets in areas that have substantial populations of people of Peruvian descent (and there´s always the Internet for those in other geographic locations). Making it from scratch, however, is much more satisfying -- not to mention economical -- and will make your house smell heavenly. Prepare it plain from this basic recipe, then change it up next time with one of the variations mentioned below. You´ll be glad you did!
*Ears of dried Peruvian purple corn, usually sold bagged, are available in many Latin American markets in the United States. If you are unable to find them at a brick and mortar store, they can be ordered online. Substitutions of other types of corn are not recommended.
Rinse the ears of purple corn under the faucet to remove any dust or foreign matter. Place the ears, plus any stray grains that may have fallen off, in a large pot together with the water, cinnamon and cloves. Put the pot over high heat on the stove; once the water reaches the boiling point, reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow this to boil for about 50 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow it to cool down until safe to handle. Strain the liquid through a fine strainer into a pitcher, setting aside (not discarding) the solids. Add the sugar to the liquid and stir until it is completely dissolved. Taste, adding more sugar if desired, though this beverage is most refreshing when it is not overly sweet.
Chill the chicha. Note: At this point, you can make another batch of the beverage, if desired, by adding more water to the pot with the reserved solids and repeating the entire process. When you see that nearly all of the grains of corn have broken open slightly, you will know that the corn has given up all of its flavor; until then, it can be reused in this way.
Right before serving, chop the apples or pears into small cubes and juice the limes. Add diced fruit and lime juice to the chicha in the pitcher and stir. Serve as-is or over ice, with a straw and a long spoon (for eating the fruit), if desired. Store any leftover chicha morada in the refrigerator.
Delicious Variations on Chicha Morada
As happens with most truly traditional dishes and drinks in all cultures, each Peruvian family puts their own twist on the basic chicha morada recipe. Here are a few ways to fancify the flavor:
Add the rind of a fresh pineapple (the part you normally would throw away after cutting up the fruit) to the water with corn and spices, then proceed as usual. Alternately, add the rind of a couple of navel oranges(orange part only), or a couple of apples or pears (peeled or not, as desired, and cut into chunks or slices).
Don´t hesitate to switch out the sweeteners in your chicha morada. Make it a little more rustic by using brown sugar instead of white, or go full Peruvian and use chancaca (unprocessed cane sugar known as piloncillo, tapa de dulce, raspadura, or panela in some other Spanish-speaking countries). Need fewer calories? Try your favorite artificial sweetener.
Get a little fancier with the floating fruit, if you like. In place of or in addition to the diced apple/pear, add small cubes of pineapple or fresh guava fruit to your chicha.