Chinese cuisine, as a rule, is not known for having an extensive dessert repertoire. I remember one of my first visits to a Chinese restaurant where there was a choice of pineapple or banana fritters, sticky stem ginger with vanilla ice cream or ‘chow chow’, a mixture of candied fruits in ginger syrup. It is a long time since I have seen any of those on the menu. Whatever happened to chow chow – can anyone shed any light? (I mean the dessert of candied fruits in ginger syrup that used to be part of the dessert menu in UK Chinese restaurants 30 or so years ago – not the mixed pickled vegetable or the Chinese dog!) It was one of my favourites but it has completely disappeared with just one reference to it on the web, also by a puzzled enquirer. These days mostly there is a selection of ice creams and sorbets that have been bought in ready made: my favourites are the hollowed half coconut shell filled with coconut ice cream or the similar pineapple version. One other dessert I remember from days gone by is a simple bowl of lychees, probably ready stoned and tinned in syrup. Light and fragrant, lychees are a perfect fruit to end a chinese meal so when I came across this recipe it seemed to fit the bill very well. This sorbet would also be refreshing served after a spicy curry.
The original recipe for lychee sorbet came from food writer Nigel Slater, published in the food and drink pages of the Guardian Newspaper online. I used fresh lychees from our market, which are readily available in the Autumn and around Christmas. Tinned lychees are available as well and Nigel Slater suggests substituting a 400g tin, using both fruit syrup. The result will be good but the flavour less delicate than if you use fresh lychees. On the plus side, you will avoid having to peel the fruit, but it is not much of a hardship. This is a delicious and simple recipe with the lime juice a necessary addition as it cuts through the extreme sweetness of the lychees. Be sure to liquidise the lychees thoroughly.
500g/1lb 1oz lychees (unpeeled & unstoned weight – see note on using tinned fruit)
100g/30zs sugar, granulated or caster
400ml/14fl ozs water
2 tbsp lime juice
250g/8ozs lychees, peeled & stoned
1. Peel the lychees and count them. Without removing the stones put them in a pan with the sugar and water.
2. Add the sugar and water. Bring to the boil. Once the liquid is boiling and the sugar has all dissolved, turn off the heat and leave to cool.
3. When it is cool enough remove the stones from of the fruit and discard them. Reserve the syrup.
4. Return the lychee flesh to the syrup and add the lime juice. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.
5. Liquidise in a blender or food processor until smooth.
6. Pour the mixture into an ice-cream machine and process until it starts to freeze. Transfer to a box and place in the freezer. (Alternatively the mixture can be placed straight into the freezer, removed once or twice and stirred well as it starts to freeze, until it has set properly.)
7. Peel and stone some of the reserved lychees. Serve alongside scoops of the soft-frozen sorbet.