Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Frosty and refreshing--prickly pear sorbet.

Yesterday, on the steps of the local market, a kid was selling higos chumbos,  prickly pears, the fruit of the cactus. Wearing gloves to protect his hands from the spines, he deftly sliced the ends from the egg-shaped fruits, slit open the skin and unwrapped the yellow-orange fruit.

Chumbos are an emblematic fruit of high summer in southern Spain, when August heat can soar to 40ºC (104ºF). The cactus grows readily in the arid countryside, where once it was used as primitive fencing, to keep farm animals in and intruders out. The fruit, sweet and very juicy, is an antidote to summer doldrums.

Cactus with flowers and fruit alongside a sculpture, "Fibonachi," by Paffard Keatinge-Clay. 

 But when I got home with my bag of peeled fruits, I remembered why I’ve never much liked chumbos—they are full of small seeds. The locals say you eat the seeds, but I don’t.  While they won’t break your fillings, the hard kernels are really not very nice.

Chumbos = prickly pears.
So, I plopped the chumbos in the blender, buzzed them until pureed, then sieved out those annoying pips. The puree—more of a thick juice than a pulp—had a refreshing flavor. How to describe it? Citrus blended with tropical fruit and watered down. Very nice. Perfect for making an icy-cold sorbet.

Well, not a true sorbet, which is made with only fruit and sugar syrup. My sorbet is really frozen yogurt.

My beloved ice cream freezer broke a few years ago. That little machine, a Braun, required no ice or salt. It was placed inside the freezer compartment of the fridge—electric cord trailing out to the nearest outlet. Perhaps it didn’t meet safety requirements, for I have never seen another one like it.

I place the fruit, yogurt and sugar in a deep bowl and puree them with an immersion blender. I pop the bowl in the freezer until the mix is partially frozen, then blend it again until very smooth, incorporating some air into the mix. I pour the mixture into individual bowls, cups or glasses.  That way, I can remove one, two, four or six servings from the freezer without having to soften a whole bowl of it.

Figs ripening on tree.

The basic recipe works with any fruit puree. August figs, ripening now, make a delightful sorbet, but nectarines, peaches or mangos are good as well. I originally made this sorbet using non-fat yogurt and artificial sweetener, in order to have a low-cal, low-carb dessert. Needless to say, full-fat yogurt is so much more delicious.

Ripe figs.

I vary the flavorings to suit my mood, to suit the fruit. The prickly-pear needs grated lemon zest. Some 
chopped mint adds to its refreshing flavor. Figs go well with vanilla, but I have experimented with a pinch of thyme instead. I like grated fresh ginger with mango and chopped basil with nectarines. A spoonful of Sherry, wine, brandy, gin, rum or liqueur adds flavor and the alcohol keeps the sorbet from freezing quite so solid.

Prickly-Pear Sorbet

Serves 6.

1 ¼ pounds prickly pears or other fruit, peeled and chopped, or about 1 ½ cups 
     pureed fruit
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Grated lemon zest
2 cups Greek yogurt
Sugar to taste (3 tablespoons to ½ cup, depending on fruit)
Chopped herbs such as mint (optional)
1 tablespoon Sherry or liqueur (optional)

Puree the fruit with the lemon juice. Sieve the puree to remove seeds.
Blend again with zest, yogurt, sugar and flavorings such as herbs and Sherry.

Place the bowl in freezer until partiallly frozen, about 2 hours. Blend again until mixture is smooth. Spoon into 6 glasses or dessert cups. Freeze until solid.

To serve, remove the glasses from freezer and let the sorbet soften for 15 minutes before serving.

Frozen yogurt with fresh figs.

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