Black pepper in an ice cream? Anywhere else in the habitable world, it may sound outrageous. In Gujarat, it is but one of the eye-popping ingredients in one of the many brands of ice cream that the state is famous for.
Scoop-erb: Creativity is important to ice-cream making in Gujarat.
Try and part the denizens of Gujarat from their ice cream, and you’ll have a riot on your hands. They love their sweets, so much so that every katori (bowl) in a thali (plate) has varying amounts of sweetness in it. It is possible, however, to feed them pasta, pizzas and vegetarian burgers with zero trace of sugar, if there’s going to be ice cream to round it all off.
Ice cream is one of the state’s most overriding obsessions. The other one is mukhwas (mouth fresheners), in a sense the effective antidote to ice cream. But ice cream occupies mind space in Gujarat that you won’t encounter elsewhere in the country. I wondered why, as my host, the genial Hetal Dave, deftly navigated his Merc into the space that three smaller cars had been eyeing, discussing all the while the relative merits of Vadilal versus Havmor, two of the most high-profile brands of ice cream in the state.
It wasn’t difficult to make the connection between ice cream and the raw product, milk, for which cooperatives such as Amul are famous. It was even easier to join the dots between ice cream and the local love for sweets, and faster yet to make the connection between the eclectic taste of the average Ahmedabadi and the astonishing range of ice creams that were on offer in the city.
Each member of the Dave family had their favourites. They ranged from lychee ice cream and cookie cream to rajbhog and the curiously named dry fruit katri. As swapping ice creams was part of the fun, I got to taste a surprising variety in my four days in Ahmedabad. The lychee ice cream really did have large chunks of the fruit in it; the rajbhog ice cream was a fusion of the two desserts, the dry fruit katri was studded with industrial quantities of crisp almonds, pistachios and hazelnuts. Even the cookie cream appeared to have been made by the simple expedient of coarsely bruising cookies and lowering them into a base of ice cream, so that the cookie bits were large enough to be both crisp and satisfying.
If we get the politicians we deserve, how much more true is it of ice cream! My friend, chef Daniel Koshy of the Taj, Ahmedabad, told me that ice cream companies in Gujarat had but two overriding concerns: One was to give the product an upmarket appeal, mostly by not stinting on the quality and quantity of nuts and dry fruits; the other was to dream up something completely new and never seen or done before. The Taj itself has little in the way of local food on its menus, but ice-cream counters are, apparently de rigueur at every banquet function in the hotel.
The easiest recipe for idiot-proof, fail-safe ice cream that has a dense kulfi-like texture comes from an NRI friend who lives in South-East Asia and makes this for the army of family and friends that descend on her house regularly.
1 can of condensed milk
1 can of evaporated milk
(The only trick is to ensure that each of the three key ingredients weigh the same, so if you have bought a can of condensed milk that weighs 250g, make sure that the other two ingredients weigh the same.)
Mix the ingredients together and freeze. You can vary the flavour by adding chopped pistachio nuts, a pounded cardamom pod, or a few strands of saffron that have been soaked in a teaspoon of warm milk for 10 minutes. No cooking required.
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