The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

Thai basil and lemongrass ice cream

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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.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan

Tags: ,

20 replies

  1. Now I’m wishing I’d grown some Thai basil this year – the flavours in your ice cream sound so good. Might have to try making it with some ‘standard’ Italian basil to start with and build up to the Thai version if I can get hold of some.

  2. Hi Sarah.

    I have to admit I’ve become borderline obsessed with the culinary possibilities of my Thai basil crop this year, but taking a rational step back I’m sure this recipe would work very well with Italian basil too, except of course that it wouldn’t provide the same aniseed contribution to the overall flavour.


  3. Oh wow! Sounds really interesting..never tried it before. It looks quite delicious.

  4. I had no idea there was so much crap in ice cream. It’s ridiculous when essentially there should be just eggs, milk and cream. I love your vegan version. I have some Thai Basil doing very well in a pot and have just planted some lemongrass. What a lovely combo.

    • Thank you Urvashi. Yes, it is shocking what the commercial ice cream manufacturers are allowed to add to their products when, as you point out, good quality ice cream needs so few ingredients.

  5. What a gorgeous photograph — and a sublime idea. I love Thai spices — I did a granita with galangal a few days ago that I just love. I thought it would work in an ice cream, too; you’ve inspired me to try it!

  6. Hi. slightly unrelated to the recipe. I happen to be from St. Charles MO and I was wondering where those cups came from? I have never heard of a St. Charles Dairy Company before and a quick google search did me no good..

    • Hi Laura

      I picked up the wax ice cream cups from Baileys, a delightful store in Ross on Wye, Herefordshire, here in the UK. It’s set in old farm buildings and sells a range of interesting and unusual household products, many of them recycled. Until I read your comment I have to admit I had assumed the cups were also recycled, and authentic, but I still love them anyway!


  7. Steve, having just made my third batch of this recipe I have to tell you that I think it’s probably one of, if not the, best tasting ice creams I have ever eaten. Surely it has commercial possibilities for you. Luckily I have plenty of Thai basil.

  8. Hi Malcolm, and thanks for your fantastic feedback.
    I am really pleased with this ice cream. We recently tried it with chargrilled pineapple, a great match.


  9. Another reason I like this recipe is that one of our close friends was recently diagnosed with coeliac disease and lactose intolerance. This doesn’t make for easy desserts but the ice cream is ideal to give her. We’ll be taking a dessert to her house soon and I think I’ll give the pineapple a go too. Thanks for the tip, Steve.

    • I hope your friend enjoys it as much as you do! I’m working on a couple of other other vegan ice cream ideas, again using unusual flavour combinations, and will be posting these on the blog once I’m happy with them.


  10. Hi there. I am very interested in making this dish but I do not have an ice cream maker. Is it possible to make this without one, and if so do you have any tips or suggestions? Thank you!

    • Hi there

      It can be done, but it does involve a little more work and quite a lot of patience. Follow the recipe up to the end of step 5, then pour the mixture into a large freezer proof container with a lid and freeze for half an hour. After half an hour, remove from the freezer and whisk or beat until smooth. Return to the freezer for another 30 minutes and then follow the same procedure as before. You’ll need to do this four or five times until the ice cream is fully frozen, by which time it will be smooth, creamy and delicious. Hope this helps. 🙂 Steve


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