Sunday, August 4, 2013

Lychee Coconut "Ice Cream"

Ice cream and I go waaaaay back.  When I was a husky toddler, I was obsessed with fudge ripple and orange sherbet (or as I would pronounce it, "shur-bay"), and I would make any excuse to upgrade a drink into a float or a milkshake.  As a teenager, the dance studio where I trained was next door to a Baskin Robbins, and I made a habit of finishing each day of classes with a frozen treat, especially my favorite, Daiquiri Ice.  And after completing my undergrad at University of Michigan, I was assistant manager at a Ben & Jerry's for a year, which was a real growing experience - for my waistband.

But when I began cleaning up my diet and forming a healthier relationship with the food I chose to put into my body, my longstanding love affair with ice cream came to a stop.  Not that I no longer ate ice cream, but it was much fewer and farther between, like those moments of catching up with an old friend who lives in another city.  But distance can often make the heart grow fonder, and that is definitely the case for this amazingly simple frozen dessert recipe of which I am very fond.  

Lychees and coconut milk, two of my all-time favorite ingredients, in one?  

Someone catch me as I swoon.

Perfectly ripe lychees from Florida.

Now for those who did not grow up eating lychees, a very frequent question, and one you may be pondering at this very moment, is, "What is a lychee?" A member of the soapberry family and native to tropical and subtropical regions in Asia, fresh lychees have a bumpy, scratchy rind that ranges from deep pink to red in color, and the fruit itself is translucent and very light pink/coral in color surrounding a large single seed.  And, of course, next up on that list of FAQ's is, "What do lychees taste like?"  And the best answer I can give, since lychees have a very distinctive flavor all their own, is to describe it as  having a clean, juicy, sweetness like a white grape with a perfume reminiscent of honeysuckle or jasmine.  A true comfort food for me.

And after discovering how to make a delicious, crave worthy, healthy icy treat with but three ingredients, I may just rekindle that flame... [insert sound of heart beating emphatically]

Lychee Coconut "Ice Cream"
Gluten-Free & Vegan

Active Prep Time: 10 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: 2 1/2-5 hours
Cooking Time: none
Yield: about 2 cups

16 (or 220g) fresh lychees, peeled and pitted
or (1) 20 oz can lychees, drained 

1/3-1/2 c full fat coconut milk
pinch salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)

What you'll need:  parchment paper, pie tin, food processor or blender, spatula, freezer-safe container

1.  Line the pie tin with parchment paper.  Spread lychee fruits evenly and then freeze for 2 hours.
2.  Once frozen, place in a food processor or blender and run until you reach a coarse "sno-cone" like texture.  Add salt, and then run again while slowly pouring the coconut milk through the chute.
Note: I found that when using canned lychees, I required less milk to reach the same consistency.  But more coconut milk is definitely not going to ruin the end result.  And another big difference between canned and fresh is that fresh lychees will not be as sweet, since they were not canned and stored in simple syrup.  So you may sweeten to your taste with maple syrup or whatever liquid sweetener you would prefer.
3.  Once smooth, with a soft-serve like consistency, transfer to a sealable freezer safe container to set for at least thirty minutes.

Frozen lychee granita - you could stop here if you wanted.

Coconut milky smooth.

Canned on the left, fresh on the right.

I was giddy the day that I saw fresh lychees at the supermarket earlier last month, and taking home two pounds of them, I saw it as a perfect opportunity for a side by side comparison of them fresh versus canned.  While canned lychees do retain some of their floral qualities, the perfume is noticeably more prominent in the flavor of fresh lychees, which translates deliciously when making this dessert.  But, on other other hand, the canned lychees did result in a smoother, creamier end product, so something to think about.

Beautifully strange.

And if you'll notice that I refer to this recipe as a "frozen dessert," or put ice cream in quotes, it's because the recipe as outlined here will produce a different texture than what most are familiar with when they think of ice cream.  If you have an ice cream maker, then that may not be the case for you, but simply using a food processor and then freezing will make larger ice crystals, making the resulting texture a cross between sorbet and gelato.  Still delicious and refreshing?  You better believe it.

Amidst the heat of the final days of Summer, this recipe is hitting the spot dead on for me.  I hope it will do the same for you.  And for those who are unfamiliar with the lychee fruit, I hope that this dessert, which highlights its delicate, yet succulent flavor perfectly, introduces you to a new favorite.


  1. I will have to try this one out, the next time I can buy some really good Lychees. Lately, I've just been making the Banana based + Almond Milk + Flax or Hemp + Cocoa or Carob + 1 or 2 other fruits, frozen drink (It's the consistency of maybe a semifreddo). It is tasty and refreshing and really quick to put together. I remember it well, how we used to go to Baskin Robbin's after dance classes. I remember that we always mispronounced 'Daquiri Ice.' We thought it was 'Da-Kwee-Ree.' Hehehehehe. I remember your days at Ben and Jerry's too. We would always have to tell you what kind of birthday ice cream cake that we wanted, it's crazy how different everybody is at present. I remember that I was staying with you at A2 for something and on your way home from work, you passed by a shop and bought a pint of 'Phish Food.' I thought it was weird because after working at Ben and Jerry's all day, I thought that you would be sick of it, but no. You really loved the stuff back then =p Anyway, I know that for a time I didn't really have ice cream or frozen yogurt for a while (even when I was still just Vegetarian), but in the last few years there have been some really good products; so yes we do get to 'rekindle,' our love for the frozen treats. I will let you know how the next batch of Lychee 'Ice Cream,' goes for me =)

  2. FINALLY getting to this! I adore lychee! My relatives and I used to sit with a bucketful fresh from the tree in front of us while watching TV. I just might have to use canned to make this because I don't think I can wait until they are in season again!


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