There is one very big advantage to making your own ice cream: you know exactly what has gone into it, an important consideration given that there are nearly 1,500 registered chemicals than can be used legally in commercial ice cream making.
Since making a successful soy-milk based elderflower ice cream a couple of months ago I have been experimenting more and more with natural vegan ice cream flavour combinations, and the recipe below is my current favourite.
Vegan ice cream is easier to make than conventional dairy ice cream and it is far more healthy, with around a quarter of the calories and a tenth of the fat of commercial dairy ice cream.
Of those 1,500 chemicals that are legally allowed to be added to commercial ice creams, some are used as emulsifiers (fat based additives that help water and fat to combine), others as stabilizers (to keep the water and fat bound together after they have been emulsified) and the remainder are used to introduce artificial flavourings and colour.
Hmmm…. not for me, thank you.
Another issue I have with commercial ice cream is that these days, despite the appearance of a wide choice, the lion’s share of the market is owned by just one company, the multinational food giant Unilever. Even the once proudly independent Ben and Jerry’s sold out to Unilever a few years back, where it joined so many other ice cream brands and trade names including Walls, Breyers, Klondike, Carte D’Or, Cornetto, Magnum, Solero, Twister and Viennetta.
A third issue I have is the claim, possibly apocryphal, that the late Margaret Thatcher, in her days as a chemist before entering full time politics, helped develop a process to incorporate more air into commercial ice cream. This practice, now widely adopted in commercial ice cream making, led people into thinking they were getting more for their money, when the truth was they were being conned into accepting something cheap and tawdry in place of what they had before. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good metaphor for Mrs Thatcher’s time in office, and yet another good reason to make your own.
Let’s move on to the recipe.
The principal components – Thai basil, lemongrass and coconut milk – are more usually found together in savoury dishes such as Thai green curry, yet here they are rubbing shoulders in a vegan ice cream, where they combine gloriously.
When you try it, the first wave of flavour your taste buds will pick up has a subtle liquorice-like taste, which comes from the Thai basil. This is quickly followed by a deeper wave of flavour comprising the warm, aromatic lemongrass and the mellow sweetness of coconut, all coming together in an extraordinary but harmonious synergy.
Simple to make, healthy and full of natural ingredients – what more could anyone ask for, especially when the result tastes this wonderful?
Thai basil and lemongrass ice cream
800 ml (2 cans) full fat organic coconut milk
6 fresh lemongrass stalks
10 g (about 2 tbsp) fresh Thai basil leaves
pinch sea salt
150 ml organic maple syrup
1. Crush the lemongrass stalks with the flat of a large knife, pressing down until you hear a satisfying crack.
2. Give the cans of coconut milk a good shake to combine the contents, then pour the coconut milk into a pan. Add the maple syrup, sea salt and crushed lemongrass stalks. Place the pan over a low heat and slowly heat up, stirring every so often. When the milk reaches simmering point, remove it from the heat and set it to one side to cool completely.
3. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Drop the Thai basil leaves into the boiling water, then quickly stir and immediately drain into a sieve before plunging the leaves into ice cold water. Drain again and then gently squeeze the excess moisture from the blanched leaves. Chop the leaves roughly.
4. When the coconut milk has cooled to room temperature, pour it through a sieve into a blender, discarding the lemongrass stalks. Add the chopped Thai basil leaves to the coconut milk, then process in the blender for 2-3 minutes until fully combined. You should end up with a pale green liquid of uniform consistency.
5. Pour the ice cream liquid into a large jug and chill in the fridge for an hour.
6. Pour the chilled ice cream mixture into an ice cream maker and churn. Once it is starting to set, tip the ice cream out into a freezer proof container. Cover the container with a lid and freeze for at least 4 hours. Remove the ice cream from the freezer and leave to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.