Cardamom, nutmeg, and pistachios bring the exotic taste of Arabia to your kitchen and guests in this sophisticated, refreshing gelato, perfect for spring and summer.
Many kabobs and savory dishes in Middle Eastern cuisine are subtly spiced; the desserts not so much. Spicy cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, rose water, and lavender are a few unmistakeably exotic flavors you might taste along with what is reasonable to call a cloying sweetness.
Omani halwa – not to be confused with the sesame-heavy Israeli halva – is one sweet that I consider to be a definite acquired taste and texture. Darkly colored (somewhat greenish), and gelatinous, I was a bit off-put; however, the spiciness of the cardamom offsets the sweetness and off texture. It was something I thought would be a one-bite wonder, and yet I kept eating it.
Back home, I realized I wanted to replicate those flavors and the warm memories of the Arabian Sea and stunningly gorge-ous (that’s a pun) wadis. Unless you are an American who is nostalgic for Jell-O salads, my guess is the gelatinous halwa – which gets its texture from a lot of ghee, or clarified butter – is not for you.
Now that you are thoroughly put off, let me remind you that this is a recipe for gelato. Gone is the gelatin and rose water (add a few tablespoons if you’d like and have access to it), replaced by creamy custard with a hint of orange and vanilla. One bite will transport you.
Omani Halwa-Inspired Gelato
- 6 egg yolks
- 4 cups whole milk
- 3/4 cup sugar (or 1 cup if sweeter is preferred)
- 1 tbsp. butter, salted preferable (or unsalted plus 1/4 tsp. salt)
- 1 heaping tsp. ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1/4 cup shelled pistachios
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 tsp. orange zest
- Juice of 1/4 large orange (or 1/2 of a blood orange)
Over low to medium heat, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the cardamom and nutmeg to incorporate, then add the pistachios. Toss the pistachios in the spice mixture to coat and saute for about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk and increase heat to medium.
Meanwhile, beat the egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.
As the milk mixture begins to heat, stir occasionally. Add the grated orange zest and orange juice, whisk to incorporate all ingredients. Add in the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar or more to taste. Once the milk has begun to boil, remove the pan from the heat.
Pour about 1 cup of the heated milk mixture into the bowl containing the egg yolks and sugar and whisk to combine and temper the eggs to prevent curdling. Then, gradually add the egg mixture into the saucepan in the milk, whisking to incorporate thoroughly. Return the pan to heat and bring to a gentle boil, whisking continuously. After the custard has come to a boil, remove from heat and cool on the stovetop.
After about 15 minutes, chill the milk mixture in the refrigerator (or fast track it in the freezer), making sure to stir about every 5 minutes or so to prevent uneven chilling and a skin from forming.
Once chilled, outfit your ice cream maker with all attachments, add the custard and follow instructions for your ice cream maker. Pack the ice cream in airtight containers and chill for about an hour before serving (or to your desired consistency). Serve with chopped pistachios or Affogato style (with a shot of espresso or chilled decaffeinated coffee poured over it).