Come January, the hum and buzz of juicers everywhere builds and I hear of more and more people making resolutions to clean out their systems and drink more juice, at least temporarily. No judgement; in fact, last year at this time I was on a five-day juice cleanse so my juicer was working hard and I was feeling alive and clean. This year, though, I am more in the mood to make my ice cream machine hum rather than my juicer.
So when a friend who is on a cleanse joked that we put the two together, I leapt at the challenge. This was one hell of a dare; aside from having no dairy or eggs, this ice cream needed to be sugar free. With that last nail in the coffin, I stepped way out of my comfort zone and into the test kitchen.
Pretty much anything that makes ice cream ice cream was banned. Having eschewed eggs, I had to thicken the base another way. So I experimented with both corn starch and tapioca starch, and both worked well. Arrowroot is another option to try. The key with starches is to make sure you cook them a bit to shake off the starchy flavor. As an omnivore, it's a reach for me to fairly compare a concoction like this to a rich, egg-based ice cream, but I've learned from masters like Jeni Briton of Jeni's Splendid that eggs aren't necessary to make an ice cream with a creamy texture.
Cream, however, is harder to replace. For this vegan version, I reached for coconut milk, both full fat and the lighter version which has a dramatically lower percentage of fat. Of course, the full fat coconut milk produced a creamier ice cream, but it worked with the reduced-fat product. I know what you're thinking; canned coconut milk isn't exactly a "cleanse-friendly" ingredient. You're right; I'm not perfect. If you want to really live into the idea of a "healthy ice cream" as I've titled this recipe, you should probably go the "lite" route.
As for the sweetness, since sugar wasn't an option I leaned on juices. I made three versions. The first has beets, a Granny Smith apple for tartness, and celery. The second has just carrots. The third had apples, pears and ginger. Of course all of this produce has different levels of sugar, which effects the final result, so you need to toy around with the formula each time.
The straight-up carrot juice ice cream is the least sweet, but the flavor has depth and the concept is whimsical. If you wanted to sweeten the deal, you could whisk in a little honey or maple syrup and still keep refined sugar out of the equation, the apple pear flavor was subtle but still satisfying. The beet mix was the group favorite. One reviewer declared "It's like we're on a trip to Indian and on the way we stop at the beach," which had me steadying myself on the butcher block with open palms and a gaping mouth for the description was so spot on. It was sweet, but not too sweet, vaguely exotic but not overwhelmingly so, and laid back. You don't have to think too hard to enjoy this one. No esoteric spices or stir-ins.
If you don't have a juicer, don't worry, you can get some from your local health food store. Most grocery stores sell carrot juice at the very least. You can also use fruit juices. There are few limits.
What started out as a joke turned into a collection of very pretty and satisfying desserts. Will I continue making ice cream without eggs, cream or sugar? Probably not. But for those times when someone you want to feed can't dive headfirst into the naughty but lovely ingredients in a batch of ice cream, this works.
1/2 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon corn starch or tapioca starch (see Note)
1 1/2 cups fruit or vegetable juice, freshly pressed if possible
In a medium mixing bowl, stir the tapioca starch with 1/4 cup of the coconut milk until smooth. Set aside. Heat the remaining coconut milk in a small saucepan over low heat until it bubbles around the edges. Whisk the starch mixture into the coconut milk and cook gently over low heat, stirring briskly, until mixture begins to thicken, which will happen quickly. Once it appears to be thickening, remove it immediately from the heat and whisk in the juice. Transfer the mixture to a heatproof bowl and let it cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until chilled.
Process in your ice cream machine according to manufacturer's directions.
Note: You can make tapioca starch by grinding instant tapioca in a spice mill or mortar and pestle until powdery.
(images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)