Thai Basil Ice Cream

Thai basil with pale pink flowers

Thai basil is one of my favorite herbs. With its bright green foliage, purple stems and pinkish flowers, it adds a tropical feel to my herb garden. The tiny flowers attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. The seeds sprout practically anywhere, including solid clay and in the cracks on the sidewalk that seemingly have no soil at all. And although it is a basil and though basils love heat, it will also grow in cooler climates with plenty of sunshine, including the mountains. Last summer I took some potted thai basil plants to 9000 feet and the plants thrived but they did require a bit more watering because the of the dry air.

The other reason I love Thai basil is its scent, which is darker than sweet basil and has hints of anise and licorice. When these darker flavors are combined with brighter flavors like coconut, lime and mango, the result is a killer combination of flavor. It’s kind of like combining a Thai curry with a mango lassi. It is exceptionally lush and full.

One of my favorite ice creams is homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream that is made with fresh mint from the garden and Ghirardelli dark chocolate. This recipe involves steeping fresh mint leaves in cream and half and half. I’ve made this ice cream on occasion over the years and it dawned on me that I could also use the same technique but with other herbs, like Thai basil and kaffir lime leaf, and create something more exotic, namely thai basil ice cream.

The first batch of thai basil ice cream that I made turned out great although I made the mistake of leaving it in the ice cream freezer bucket. It became as hard as a rock when I put it in the freezer. The only way to scoop it was with a real hard ice cream scoop.

The second batch of thai basil ice cream was done in a hurry and I did not have the time to chill it enough. But this turned out to be a fortuitous mistake. The ice cream maker was able to chill the mixture to the consistency of a smoothie or milk shake but no further and the result was in a word spectacular. Everyone in the group raved about it. One of the best shakes I’ve ever had. I’m still trying to figure out why everyone liked it so much. Was it the mistake, or was it the context, the fact that we had eaten pizza (salty and heavy) before hand?

Coconut milk: two cans (27 ounces)
Whipping cream or half & half: two cups (16 ounces)
Granulated sugar: 1/2 a cup or to taste (or substitute with palm sugar)
Thai basil leaves: fresh, at least one to two cups loosely packed
Kaffir lime leaves: at least 8, roughly chopped
Mango: one or two, finely chopped

Two-quart saucepan
Candy thermometer
Ice cream maker

Shake the cans of coconut milk for about half a minute. This will help to dissolve any fat that may be adhering to the sides.

Pour the coconut milk, cream and sugar into a two-quart sauce pan or pot. Place pot on a burner on low to medium low heat. Stir the mixture until well-mixed and then add the Thai basil and kaffir lime leaves. Slowly heat mixture to about 175 degrees. This will give the leaves more time to infuse the liquid with their essences. While the mixture is heating, muddle the leaves with a muddler or the back of a large spoon.

Once the mixture reaches 175 degrees, turn off the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature. Place mixture in the refrigerator either overnight or until it is chilled.

If time is critical, place the pot on a bed of ice to cool it down faster. Stir occasionally if the fat appears to be separating from the liquid.

After the mixture has reached a suitable temperature for use with your ice cream maker, prepare a mango or two by chopping it into relatively fine bits. Use a clean cutting board so that you can empty the leftover mango juice into the mixture.

Last, strain the leaves while you are pouring it into the ice cream mixer’s container. Do not forget to strain the leaves unless you like to eat leaves in your ice cream. While your maker is churning and freezing the mixture, add the chopped mango and juice. The mix will change from a creamy white to pale yellow.

Another option is to chill the mixture until it reaches the consistency of a milk shake or a smoothie. This will have more flavor because it won’t be as cold.

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