Pop quiz, hotshot: What is the best homemade ice cream in the whole world?
Answer: Beni imo!!!!
Beni imo is an Okinawan sweet potato. It is available in dried, purple flakes in Asian specialty shops, although it’s incredibly difficult to find (we have relatives who ship it to us from Okinawa when we’re desperate). Sweet potato may not sound appealing, but it doesn’t really taste like sweet potato, or even, say, a sweet potato pie. Beni imo, rather, has a taste all its own. It’s hard to describe, but I’d put it somewhere between cake-batter, and… a carnival. And who doesn’t want a carnival in their mouth? Exactly.
This past weekend, my mom and I prepared this wondrous treat. It’s actually quite simple, as long as you have two uncommon items in your kitchen: beni imo flakes and an ice cream machine.
“So, what did you name this contraption?” I said to my mom teasingly, lugging her ice cream machine out of the closet and placing it on the counter. I was referring to the KitchenAid mixer she had recently dubbed “Angelina” due to its intense beauty. I figured she had named all of her appliances by now. “Val Kilmer? You know, ‘cause he’s Ice Man? …That’s how he flies? Ice cold, no mistakes?” I laughed at my own joke.
My mom eyed me warily. “It doesn’t have a name. It’s an ice cream machine.”
Preparation begins the same as regular vanilla ice cream.
Pour 1 ¾ cup whole milk (we actually used 2% milk, and our finished product was still extremely rich) and 1 ¾ cup heavy cream into a pot to simmer. In a separate bowl, mix 4 large egg yolks and ¾ cup granulated sugar with a hand mixer (Angelina shot the hand mixer dirty looks), until the consistency is similar to mayonnaise, about 2 minutes.
Take 1 cup of the hot milk/cream from the simmering pot and, with the hand mixer on a low speed, add it to the egg mixture in a slow, steady stream. When thoroughly combined, pour the egg mixture back into the sauce pan. Stir.
In a new bowl, combine a separate, additional ½ cup of warm milk with ½ cup of beni imo flakes and stir until smooth (it should be similar to the consistency of instant mashed potatoes). Add a little extra milk if it’s lumpy. Pour this mixture into the simmering milk and cream. Stir until smooth over medium heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. When it is thick, add 1 ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl. (If your mixture is lumpy now, pour through a strainer). Cover it with plastic-wrap and chill completely in the refrigerator (overnight is best).
Once the mixture is thoroughly chilled, you’re ready to bust out that ice cream maker. Pour the mixture into the freezer bowl, and flip that puppy on.
Now comes the best part of making beni imo ice cream: you must sample the ice cream with a spoon (or your finger) while it is churning. It is off the hooooooooooook. The texture is similar to cold, cold cake batter. Just don’t let your mom catch you; moms are really weird about these things.
The ice cream should churn for about 20 minutes. And voila! You have just created beni imo ice cream.
“Hmmmm,” my mom said frowning, as she transferred the finished ice cream into Tupperwares. “I could’ve sworn that the recipe made more the last time.” She stopped, and looked at me suspiciously. I was already licking the mixer. (That’s right, don’t let anyone tell you I am not the best sous chef ever; I am James Beard Nominee material.)
(And readers, if you get word of a web site where you can order beni imo flakes, let me know! If I find one, I will post it.)