My childhood home was 10 minutes away from the beach by foot. From late spring up until September 1st – the first day of the Ukrainian school year – my mom would take my sister and I to the beach every single day. To clarify, she took us as well as a handful of other neighborhood kids; other times, we’d be taken by someone else’s mom. Most days we’d get there by 8 a.m. to claim the coveted spot as close to the water as possible.
The beach in Odessa is unlike any other I’ve been to since. The sand is fine and soft, the Black Sea warm, gentle and shallow. We’d hang out there until the early afternoon – us kids digging sand castles and wading in the waves, the moms smoking cigarettes and trading stories and gossip. We would usually head home by 1 p.m., before the sun got too high up in the sky.
The sluggish, sleepy walk home was always punctuated by a stop for ice cream, which was sold by aproned elderly ladies out of checkered plastic woven totes all along the path to the beach. There were precisely three flavors to choose from: vanilla and chocolate (both in soft waffle cones), and a berry-flavored concoction (on a stick) most closely resembling sherbert, but we did not call it that. Although we expected the routine and knew it well, walking home with this cold treat slowly melting down our forearms never stopped feeling triumphant. To do the math, having lived nine years in Odessa and eaten an ice cream every day of every summer, I must have eaten upwards of a thousand ice creams. Yikes.
Naturally, I hold the firm belief that the beach path ice cream of my childhood is the best ice cream on earth. And it’s not even a long shot. Ukrainian ice cream is fattier and less sugary than American, and is made with full-fat dairy that is by default grass-fed and organic, and you just can’t go wrong with that. Now that I’m a grown adult, there is very little ice cream in my life. It’s not intentional, but having eaten so much of it as a kid, I feel like I’ve had my fill. I’ve also noticed that as I get older, I’m craving less sugar, and more salty and savory instead (looking at you, French cheese + baguette combo).
In preparation for #popsicleweek 2017 (thanks for organizing this, Billy!), I started brainstorming the flavor that I’d want to contribute to this epic annual internet party. Scrolling through all the past years’ submissions, I thought about various out-of-the-box flavors, wacky toppings, glazes, glitter sprinkles, and so forth. But alas, I decided to stay true to myself – my Soviet, minimalist self.
These creamy mango popsicles are vegan and refined sugar-free, thanks to deliciously rich coconut milk and pure maple syrup. They are so easy to make, even I had a hard time believing it – all you need is a baking sheet, a blender and a popsicle mold (I bought this one for the occasion). To enhance the coconut flavor, I added some freshly toasted coconut, which pairs well with refreshing mango for hot summer days. For the coconut, I used Bob’s Red Mill. For the milk, be sure to use a high-fat variety, avoiding anything too watery (sorry, Goya); I recommend Thai Kitchen Organic brand. Be sure to refrigerate your cans of coconut milk up to 1-2 hours in advance as you need the water and cream to separate. If mango is not your jam, feel free to switch it out for 2 cups of any other chopped fruit (like pineapple or peaches, YUM!) or berries (hi, strawberries and blueberries).
Cheers to summer food memories!
- ½ cup finely shredded unsweetened coconut
- Two 13-ounce cans of full-fat unsweetened coconut milk, very cold from the fridge
- ⅓ cup pure maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large mango, peeled, pitted and roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
- Pinch of sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Place the coconut flakes on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Bake until golden brown, 3-4 minutes, being careful not to burn. Set aside.
- Open the coconut milk cans. The cream should be separated out and solidified on top. Using a spoon, poke through the cream and pour off the coconut water (reserve it for another use, like a smoothie). Scrape the cream from both cans into a blender and add the maple syrup, vanilla, mango and salt. Blend until completely smooth. Stir in the toasted coconut with a spoon.
- Divide the mixture among popsicle molds and freeze for several hours, or until popsicles are completely solid.
- To unmold the popsicles, them them stand at room temperature for a few minutes or run the underside of the mold under warm water. Once unmolded, you may wrap the popsicles in plastic wrap or store them in freezer baggies. These will keep in the freezer for up to 3 months.