Sunday, May 22, 2011

Ruggata tal Lewz (Maltese Almond Drink)

Growing up, a favorite beverage that I enjoyed whenever I was at Nanna’s house was something we called almond drink. Naturally, the flavor of almond is ever present in this drink, but the addition of cinnamon, cloves, and lemon give it a certain complexity which is quite appealing. I later learned that this sweet and refreshing drink is actually known as ruggata tal lewz in Malta. “Tal lewz” indicates that is “of almond.” Even though I now know its official name, it doesn't seem to roll off the tongue as easily for me as "almond drink" does. So almond drink it remains.

As a kid, I especially enjoyed almond drink during the summer months after swimming in Nanna’s pool. It was always ready lickety-split, as it is essentially a flavored simple syrup which you add to chilled water and top off with evaporated milk. Nanna usually kept a supply of the syrup on hand in her fridge, and I recommend you do the same. Keeping a ready supply on hand allows for instant gratification whenever anyone should crave it. Although running out of the syrup never stopped Nanna from indulging us in our requests. We just had to be a little more patient in those rare moments.

I distinctly remember the first time I realized "making" almond drink required more than just the assembly of syrup, water, and milk. I was about seven and I just got out of the pool on a hot, muggy summer afternoon. Obediently staying in the pool area, as I was dripping wet and not allowed in the house, I called into the kitchen asking for some almond drink. Nanna told me she'd make me some. I waited. And I waited. And waited some more. This was unusual. Almond drink was always ready super fast. By the time I was dry enough by Nannu's standards to enter the house, I got to see just what Nanna was up to -- she had a little pot boiling away on the stove, with what I thought looked to be a weird mixture of ingredients. This was my discovery of the origins of almond drink syrup. It is also a testament to Nanna's loving and attentive nature.

So, Memorial Day weekend is upon us -- the symbolic start of summertime. Instead of quenching your summertime thirst with lemonade this season, whip up a batch of almond drink. You won't be disappointed. Oh, and even though it’s great during the summer, don’t feel like you can only enjoy it when white pants are in season… this drink is amazing year-round.

4 cups water
4 cups sugar
1 cinnamon stick
6 cloves
rind of one lemon
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, mix water and sugar over medium-high heat until the sugar has dissolved, about 3 minutes. Add the cinnamon stick, cloves, and lemon rind; bring the mixture to a boil for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and strain. Add the almond and vanilla extracts; mix well and store syrup in a glass bottle or jar. It will keep for about 6 months in the refrigerator.

To serve, pour one ounce of the syrup over ice. Stir in 8 ounces of water. Top with a splash of evaporated milk.


  1. Photos by Thao and Justin. Thank you!

  2. I don't hydrate as much as I should because liquids make me uncomfortably full. Ever since making almond drink for photo documentation, however, I've made two syrup batches in a row and have even wanted to bypass my morning coffee in favor of it. :)

  3. Almond drink still tastes like summer. It always takes me back to the poolside, gulping it down in the high noon sun, with pruned fingers, and chlorine on my lips, Nannu cleaning the pool as we swam, Nanna keeping watch from the kitchen, where pastizzis crisped in the oven.

  4. OMG. Nannu cleaned the pool while you SWAM?! Justin, that's like you cleaning in the kitchen while I'm cooking. (Example: the burner is on and you elbow in amongst multiple pan handles and me stirring to wipe the stove top precariously close to the heat.) Drives me a little crazy. :)

  5. Hey, I like to wipe the stove even if a burner is on neaby too. Otherwise the spill will bake onto the stovetop, making it harder to clean later! I actually kind of like hearing the sponge make a sizzling noise due to the hot surface. It's the sound of clean.

  6. Imagine: A tight space, a calculated rhythm, timers quietly counting down. Then Justin appearing, a big sigh, and frenzied wiping ensuing like some crazy free form guitar solo on an otherwise calm song. That's what I'm talking about. :)

  7. Yummmm! Adding 2-3 tablespoons of syrup per 16 oz of milk is helping the fetus 'n me get our many glasses of milk a day in :). I also took the liberty of throwing in 6 green cardamom pods to the infusion (they add a little aromatic depth).

    Love the cloudy milk photo ...