Ice cream around the world (and at home)

Kaffir Lime Coconut Sorbet

Kaffir Lime Coconut Sorbet

Written in October 2012

I am notorious for not eating green things. I hate green things unless they are tinged with sugar or overwhelmed with salt.

So quite naturally, I am quite the candidate for ice cream loving. Even those flavors that are green.

A sample list of exceptions to green things that I will eat:

  • Limes (because they are like oranges and lemons)
  • Green things that can be picked out
  • Sauteed green beans
  • Lettuce
  • Juicy pear jelly belly beans
  • When I was in Vancouver, my friends and I walked through the markets of historical Granville Island and came across wrinkled green limes nestled with astringent hardy leaves. Kaffir lime is what the sign said.

    Kaffir Limes

    “You will never find this in the states,” my friend who was raised abroad in India, Thailand and Singapore announced. “Not fresh, at least.”

    At my first real job, I went with my coworkers frequently to Osha, a local San Francisco Thai restaurant. There, kaffir lime leaves permeated nearly every plate (definitely more than the Americanized Thai restaurants I was accustomed to). Spicy catfish to salmon sashimi salad to tom kha noodle soup. The leaves were always so dried, almost translucent. But they imparted an unusual taste that I associated with Thai cooking.

    When I went to the farmers market (same trip as for the passionfruit), the same stand had a box of kaffir lime leaves with deeply nestled wrinkly limes.

    Buying kaffir limes and leaves at the farmers market

    Bargaining with the stand owner, I walked away with more than 20 kaffir leaves and about 6 limes.

    When I returned to my kitchen, I searched online for inspiration for ice cream flavored with kaffir limes. I came upon this excellent recipe from Serious Eats. Interestingly, the original recipe called for coconut water. The author recommended buying those pervasive bottles of coconut water (nowadays the substitute for Gatorade) such as Vita.

    However, adhering to my decision from Ohio, I wanted to use only whole ingredients as much as possible. Like any determined chef, I found myself at the local ethnic market, buying three whole coconuts. Then after bribing a fellow male (knowing my weakness in wielding a chefs knife), he chopped open the coconuts and I poured out the coconut water directly in measuring cups.

    Collecting coconut water

    Good fact to know: each coconut (those found in grocery stores) will have approximately 1 to 1.5 cups of coconut water.

    By using unfiltered, unprocessed coconut water, the kaffir lime coconut sorbet had a strong coconut taste (especially since no water is used; only coconut water is used to balance the water/sugar content). Each bite of the sorbet finishes with a refreshing hint of the kaffir lime leaves.

    The resulting sorbet is tropically sweet, without being overpowering.


    Adapted from Serious Eats


    3 1/2 cups of chilled coconut water from retail coconut water brands such as Vita Coco or 3 fresh coconuts (not coconut milk)
    12 kaffir lime leaves, bruised and torn
    Pinch of salt
    2 pieces of star anise
    1 cup of sugar
    2 to 3 tablespoons of lime juice, to taste
    1 tablespoon of ginger, shredded on a fine grater or microplane (optional)


    Add coconut water, kaffir limes and salt to a saucepan. Bring to a simmer, uncovered.

    Remove from heat. By this point, the leaves will have faded to a dull olive green. Remove the leaves. Stir in sugar until dissolved.

    Add the star anise and steep for at least 10 to 20 minutes. Depending on the intensity of the flavor, allow for more or less time.

    For best results, chill for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

    When ready to churn, stir in the ginger (optional) and lime juice, starting with two tablespoons. Check flavor and add more lime juice, to taste.

    Churn in an ice cream maker based on the manufacturer’s instructions. The result will be slightly soft. Freeze for at least an hour for good consistency. Top with lime zest or other Asian goodies (like sago!)

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