In the U.S., sorbet is treated like an afterthought, an offering for diners avoiding dairy. But in Mexico, where markets overflow with plump peaches, ripe avocados, crimson papayas, and fragrant pineapples, sorbets shine. As chef Fany Gerson, of New York City’s frozen treats shop La Newyorkina writes in her new book, Mexican Ice Cream, “sorbets are incredibly underrated” in the U.S., but in Mexico, “nieves de agua tend to be of high quality... and Mexican ice cream makers appreciate and understand the value of fresh fruit.”
Sweet fruits like guava and mango are made into sorbets that are offset with salt and chile. At almost every shop and stand, chamoy, a unique fermented condiment that enhances a fruit’s natural flavor, is on offer as a topping. Tamarind and mango sorbets contain small mashed bits of the pulpy fruit; the seeds of guava, prickly pear, and watermelon are folded back into the finished sorbets to add texture and remind eaters that every scoop was made with fresh fruit.
Below, find a recipe for a spicy watermelon sorbet from Gerson’s new book. There’s salt to enhance the fruit’s sweetness, lime to brighten the flavors, and chile, which adds complexity and heat to the frozen treat.
Spicy Watermelon Sorbet
Nieve de Sandía Picosita
In Mexico, a very popular street snack is cut-up fresh fruit sprinkled with salt, ground chiles, and lime juice. Watermelon, mango, orange, and pineapple are the most common. Cucumber and jicama are served this way too. Fruit sorbets are often flavored with the same seasonings, but this refreshing watermelon sorbet uses fresh green chiles, not ground chiles, for spiciness.
I like this sorbet with the melon seeds mixed in, as seeing them in there makes me feel as though I’m taking bites of the fresh fruit. But it’s surprising to me that it’s so difficult to find watermelons with seeds in the United States. You can use seedless watermelon, of course — the sorbet will still taste amazing.
MAKES ABOUT 1½ QUARTS
6 cups cubed watermelon (about 2 pounds; see Note)
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
Juice of 2 limes
2 serrano chiles, or 1 small jalapeño chile, coarsely chopped, with seeds
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch of ground piquín chile, plus more to taste (optional)
Salted ground chiles, for sprinkling (optional, look for Tajin brand)
In a blender, combine the watermelon, sugar, corn syrup, lime juice, chopped chiles, salt, and piquín chile. Puree until smooth. Taste and, if desired, add more piquín chile. Pour into a container, cover, and refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
Freeze and churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. When the sorbet has finished churning, mix in the reserved watermelon seeds (if using). For a soft consistency, serve the sorbet right away; for a firmer consistency, transfer it to a container, cover, and allow to harden in the freezer for 2 to 3 hours. Serve sprinkled with salted ground chiles, if desired.
Note: If you are using watermelon with seeds and would like to add the seeds to the sorbet, remove the seeds before cutting the melon into cubes, and then mix them in after churning the sorbet. If the seeds are simply left in the flesh, they will break down when the melon is pureed.