My grandparents had a house in Goa on the West Coast of India that was located in an historic part of the capital city, Panjim (now known as Panaji). Practically every summer, the entire family including my grandparents, would take a trip down where we’d spend a couple of weeks by the ocean and relax in the warm sunny weather. The house was old, large and at times dark, which scared me a little but there were so many fun moments. I remember every morning, waking up to the sound of the horns and then running out out on to the tall balcony to see if I could stretch up to see the incoming ships that stopped at the dock. I remember my mom showing and explaining to me some of the antique china and pieces of furniture (a big round white marble table with huge wooden legs, that I would love to own today) that had been collected over the years, of course at that time I displayed very little interest in these things (now it’s a whole different level of fascination when it comes to antiques). There was a stack of paper, so old (I vaguely remember seeing a watermark imprint of the British Royal Family on it) and delicate that every time you tried to handle a sheet, it would crack and break (breaking rather than ripping paper was a strange and fascinating concept back thn to a kid back then).
The things that were much more fun to a ten year old back then, were the steep staircase at the back, the deep well (that was off-limits) and the garden that were enclosed at the back of the house. I remember the coconut, jackfruit and mango trees that adorned the garden and every summer we would eagerly await our bounty. My grandfather would hire someone to come and pick the fruit out and we would sit and watch with eager anticipation. For me, it was mostly the mangoes, they were sweet and juicy and delicious.
I have not been back in more than a decade. The house has long since been sold, demolished and the ground now stands home to a large condominium/shopping mall but some of the memories are still stored up here in my head. This summer, the new boat has brought back some of those early childhood memories by the ocean and along with it a strong craving for mangoes. Last weekend, I decided to whip up some of the memories and freeze them in this kulfi recipe. I hesitate on calling kulfi an Indian ice-cream (thought it is described sometimes as such) because it is very different, it traditionally uses less fat and lacks eggs or corn starch as thickening agent when compared to a typical ice-cream. It also has a unique texture of its own, it is creamy yet not soft but firm with a very mild grainy texture that comes from the ground almond meal. Yet it is so simple to prepare but still so complex in flavors and textures that it remains a very popular frozen dessert in Indian cuisine during the hot summer months. I used freezer-safe cappuccino cups to set the kulfi but you can use the traditional kulfi molds (which you can find online or at your local Indian food store) or small conical tea cups or even popsicles molds.
India has several different varieties of mangoes and they are sweeter and much more flavorful than any other mango that I have tasted from elsewhere. The Alphonso variety are one of the sweetest, there are others that are simply not eaten by scooping out the flesh but rather sucked out because their meat is sweet but their texture too stringy to chew on. If you every get the opportunity to visit the Indian west coast during summer, I highly recommend trying one of the many mango varieties of the local region. When buying mangoes, press them gently they should be soft but not mushy. They should also give off a sweet fruity smell and the skin should be as yellow as possible with absolutely (preferably) no traces of green color.
yields: 6 servings
1 quart or 4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon saffron strands, ground
1/4 teaspoon green cardamom seeds, ground
1/4 cup almond meal
1/2 pint heavy cream, chilled
1 cup fresh ripe mango puree (I used Champagne mangoes but if you can try to use a much more sweeter and flavorful Indian variety like the Alphonso)
a little fresh mango pulp, diced for garnishing
1. Bring the milk and sugar to a boil in a thick-bottomed saucepan, stir constantly with a silicone spatula to prevent the milk from scalding. Reduce the flame to a gentle simmer and add the honey. Continue to stir the milk and simmer for another 20-25 minutes until it reduces to approximately 3 cups.
2. Stir in the saffron and cardamom and once again bring the milk to a boil. Continue to stir and fold in the almond meal. Boil for 2-3 minutes and remove from the stove.
3. Fold in the cream and mango puree. Cool the mixture to room temperature. Pour into freezer-safe cappuccino cups (or kulfi molds). Cover the open end with cling film and freeze for at least 10-12 hours to firm. 4. Before serving, place the frozen mold into a warm water bath or running hot water from a faucet to release the kulfi from the mold. Stick a knife into the center of the kulfi (not all the way through, just deep enough to help you maneuver the kulfi) and rotate the kulfi to get it out of the mold. Garnish with freshly diced mango fruit pieces.