A couple of weeks ago, my friend Julie introduced me to Basil Gelato, a creamy, delicious mix of milk, cream, eggs and sugar flavored with lots of whirled up basil from the garden. The one problem with the gelato was the color was just a bit too close to Army green for my taste.
I wanted to play with the recipe and also see if I could make a version that was dairy free for all my lactose-intolerant friends and relatives. Since the original recipe called for cream, the natural dairy-free replacement was coconut milk. I tempered that with some almond milk and added lime because coconut, basil and lime go so well together in Thai foods. To deal with the color issue, I decided to steep the basil in the ice-cream base rather than whirl it in a blender. The result is just slightly green and totally delicious.
Dairy-Free Basil Gelato
1 can (13.6 ounces) coconut milk (NOT low-fat)
1 cup almond milk (****See 2018 update below)
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
2 cups basil leaves
1 lime (used for zest and juice)
Rinse and dry the basil leaves and set aside. In a sauce pan, mix the coconut and almond milks and 1/2 cup sugar and set them on a low heat to warm. In a bowl, mix the four egg yolks, vanilla, salt and 1/4 cup sugar and beat with a whisk (or a mixer) until they are lighter in color and thickened slightly. When the milk mixture begins to steam, ladle about 1/4 cup at a time into the egg yolk mixture to bring the temperature up slightly. After about three ladles, you can add the eggs to the milks and continue to cook the custard, stirring regularly. After about 8 minutes, the mixture will be thickened slightly. Remove from heat and add the basil leaves. Let the mixture steep for at least 30 minutes as the gelato base cools.
When it is cooler, add the zest and juice of a lime. Then strain the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the basil leaves. Place the mixture in the refrigerator to cool even more. If you have an ice cream maker, get it out and set it up. When the mixture is cool, add it and process until you have gelato. If you do not have an ice cream maker (I don’t), pour the cooled mixture into an 8×8 inch pan that you have lined with parchment paper or wax paper. Put it in the freezer and take it out every 30 minutes and stir it up to mix the icy bits around. In about two hours, it will be frozen and close to ice cream texture. You can cover the pan with plastic wrap and keep it in the freezer until it’s time to serve. When you serve it, set it out on the counter for about 10 minutes to thaw before scooping.
This would be great as dessert after any spicy meal.
****2018 Update: Since I originally developed this recipe, almond milk has become extremely popular. Some almond milks separate when heated — at least they do for me. The almond milks that work best in this recipe are those sold in the store on the grocery shelves, not in the refrigerator case. If your custard mixture separates, you can pull the mixture together a bit after straining it by stirring before freezing or adding additional uncooked product (such as whipped cream or non-dairy whipped topic to pull it together) or replacing the almond milk with additional coconut milk or regular dairy milk (whole or half and half would work best.)