“I think I might treat myself to a mango,” was a refrain I heard with regularity from my husband in the two years we spent in our tiny Dupont Circle apartment. Occupying only 1/4 of an old row house, our living quarters were modest, crowded and the best two entry-level nonprofit salaries will get you in that neighborhood. Technically our second apartment together, (more amusing details on the first one later) we consider our Dupont address with its hardwood floors warped with hills and valleys, the gap under the front door that let in all manner of furry visitors, and the bedroom that could barely hold a double bed, to be our first real home together.
With limited expendable cash for dinners out, we got our kicks where they came cheaply or even better – freely. I threw myself into the budget-friendly world of bread baking. In that wee kitchen, heat poured from every surface of my dented half-sized oven – not exactly Energy Star certified. It often approached 100 degrees in our apartment as I cranked the oven’s temperature dial to the max. But the smell of rising yeast and the crunch of homemade hot bread always made the sweating worthwhile.
Zach developed a different model for indulgence and would ‘splurge’ on a ripe, or as he prefers just-shy-of-ripe, mango snapped up from the near-by Asian grocery store. As a dessert and sugar fiend myself, my idea of guilty pleasure rarely has anything to do with fruit unless said fruit happens to be hiding inside some sort of buttery pastry or dipped in melted chocolate. I would watch in quiet awe as he ate – skins and all – and juice dripped down his chin.
His natural gift for finding joy in the simplest things is one of the qualities I admire most about my better half. As a young cook and baker, I possess an overflowing excitement for new and complex flavor combinations and how to alter or perhaps even improve old family recipes. But sometimes – no matter what you throw in the pot – it just doesn’t get any better than a good sharp knife and perfectly ripe mango.
So as Zach’s birthday approached this weekend, I knew he could not care less about a fancy cake or elaborate chocolate-filled dessert. Mango-flavored something seemed to be a given and since I’m always looking for an excuse to break out my beloved ice cream maker – mango sorbet it was. For the recipe I went to the bible of all things frozen, churned and creamy: David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. If you don’t own this book or an ice cream maker I highly recommend picking up both. While I typically don’t advocate purchasing highly specific kitchen gadgets, ice cream makers are economically priced and David gives a fabulous write-up on different models in the book to help with your decision. To your tastebuds’ joy and perhaps your waistline’s detriment, you will use an ice cream maker more often than you think.
To indulge my craving for more complex flavors, I turned to a recipe for Lemon Cardamom ice cream featured in the LA Times last year. The flavors meld nicely together with the mango and although I could not find Meyer lemons in my local grocery store on that given day, I substituted with what was available and the ice cream still turned out fabulously rich with a balanced tart punch.
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
2 large, ripe mangos
2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
4 teaspoons lime juice, plus more to taste (I used 1 very juicy lime)
1 Tbs dark rum, plus more to taste
Pinch of salt
1. Using a sharp vegetable peeler, peel the mangos and cut all the flesh away from the pit. Roughly chop the flesh and toss it in the bowl of a blender or food processor with the sugar, water, lime juice, rum and salt. Squeeze the mango pits over the blender to extract as much juice as possible. Discard pits.
2. Puree the mixture until smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides as needed. Taste the mixture and add more lime juice and rum to taste. I prefer more of both but be careful not to add too much rum or the mixture will not freeze properly. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, preferably overnight, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Lemon Cardamom Ice Cream*
Adapted from a recipe featured in the Los Angeles Times
5 Meyer lemons
1 tablespoon cardamom pods, crushed
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
6 large egg yolks
3 cups whipping cream
1. Peel 1 lemon with a vegetable peeler, taking care not to cut into the bitter white pith. Place the peel in a nonreactive medium saucepan with the crushed cardamom, half-and-half and sugar. Scrape the vanilla pod seeds into the pan and drop in the pod. Heat over high heat to just under a boil. Remove from the heat, and allow to steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks, and then pour in some of the hot half-and-half mixture, stirring constantly. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon, 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Pour the mixture through a strainer into a bowl. Finely grate the zest of 2 lemons and add it to the mixture. Allow to stand for 10 minutes.
4. Add the cream to the mixture. Juice all 5 lemons and add the juice (you should have about three-fourths cup) to the cream mixture. Chill thoroughly.
5. Freeze in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (Makes 1 quart.)
*Note: This recipe yields a larger amount (1 quart) of than the sorbet recipe. If you have a smaller machine or need less ice cream (who needs less ice cream?), this recipe can easily be halved.