Monday, February 21, 2011

Chilly Chili Coconut

Chili Coconut Ice Cream
Bites of a favorite food: On the first, I wonder “what is that?” I roll the second around my mouth like at a wine tasting. The third I hold up to my eye to scrutinize its ingredients. And from the fourth on til the tantalizing last, I smack my lips, trying to draw out the tastes like I’m conducting chromatography, each flavor a vibrant streak melting into the next. 

Contrast that with bites of a merely tasty food: Shovel first into my piehole. Repeat with remaining bites as quickly as possible.

I’ve been lucky to eat many tasty meals since moving to New York in 2009. But more than the tastiest dish or, God forbid, the loveliest ambiance, I prize unusual flavors over all other factors when I eat out. Most of all, I hate food that tastes like I could’ve made it at home—where’s the fun in that?

The dinner I ate at Graffiti Food and Wine Bar in the East Village a few months ago aced it on all dimensions, including yumminess of food and cuteness of ambiance. I ate several candidates for new favorite food that night: A crunchy pizza of pastry dough, hummus, and sliced zucchini topped with crushed wasabi peas; a savory dessert of strawberries dressed in white truffle oil with black pepper ice cream and slivered almonds. Even the memory makes me smack my lips.

Coconut Chili Fizz at Mehtaphor
So when I dragged my friend A. to Mehtaphor, Chef Jengahir Mehta’s second restaurant, and talked him into some Yelp-approved dishes, I expected better than course after course of food that tasted like I could’ve made it. That night Mehtaphor’s kitchen merited no “what is that?” moments; the obvious answer was salt, and only salt, every time.

On the other hand, Mehtaphor’s bar was serving magic: a foamy coconut cocktail with bites of chili and a lingering herbal flavor. Each sip of their Coconut Chili Fizz left me dying to know what was in it, so I cornered our waiter to find out: a scoop of ice cream made of coconut milk steeped in chilies, topped with sparkling water, vodka, and snipped tarragon and mint leaves. Yum. We had the waiter bring us another round of spicy froth.

The next day I set out to replicate my new favorite cocktail. But I only got as far as the ice cream. On its own, this snowy cloud of spice and herbs would make a lovely dessert after a rich meal. Or top with a glug of clear liquor (I prefer gin to vodka) and sparkling water for a coconut cocktail that’s nothing like those cloying coladas. I suppose “I could make that at home” isn’t always a slur.

Chili Coconut Ice Cream
One can coconut milk (I used lite; I bet this is even better with full-fat)
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk (I used almond milk because it was what I had on hand)
2 tsp crushed red pepper
A light sprinkle of cayenne pepper
Splash of vodka (~1 tsp)
Snipped fresh tarragon and mint to garnish, ~1/2 cup (I used 1 tsp dried for the tarragon because I couldn't find fresh.)

  • Mix coconut milk, sugar, peppers, and dried herbs if using in a sauce pan or frying pan.
  • Simmer over medium heat for 3-4 minutes to blend the flavors and melt the sugar
  • Chill in refrigerator or freezer until cool
  • Add milk and vodka
  • Prepare according to your ice cream maker’s instructions. Freeze for 1-2 hours to firm up before serving, since this will come out of the ice cream maker with the consistency of soft-serve
  • Top with fresh herbs and a dash of red pepper flakes
Notes for the Naked:
  • If you have no ice cream maker, you can either stir or smush your way to creamy bliss
  • Booze in ice cream keeps it creamy in the freezer.
  • Mine stayed creamier than non-dairy ice cream usually does, even after a long stint in the freezer. Maybe because I kept it at the front of the fridge? If your ice cream is frozen solid, let it sit out for 10 minutes before serving.

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