Nieve. Even the word rolls off the tongue and curls the lips in pleasure.
On a warm day, there’s nothing like it to instantly refresh and sparkle the taste buds. Nieve, or snow in español, refers to fruit and water based ices and sorbets of a near limitless variety; some vendors even offer a creamy milk version.
Nieve stands are a way of life in Mexico; their carts and small tiendas dot the street corners and calles.
It’s hard to believe such a refreshing treat can be had for only few pesos, or less than a dollar. In Mexico City recently, a guanabana-mamey combination was so stunning, I had return for more.
Next door to my Queretaro casa, an addictive nieve stand is enthusiastically supported by the locals. Early every Wednesday a mob begins to form in front of the small space, and it stays that way all day.
Anyone who loves nieve knows that today is 2-for-1 day, and it is well worth the wait for a few scoops of heaven.
Mango, coconut, or pineapple, are always popular; then there’s frequently queso or cheese, cappuccino, usually some version of chocolate, and often pistachio. The mantecado reminds me of an old-fashioned buttery spumoni with nuts and fruit.
Rick Bayless and his Frontera Grill have done much to promote the foods of Mexico. In his cookbook, One Plate at Time, he offers a fascinating Elote Nieve, or Sweet Corn Ice Cream, which I can’t wait to tackle on my return home.
For now, here is an authentic yet simple alternative from Rick: Nieve de Tuna or Fresh Prickly Pear Ice. He even explains how to handle the critters, so if your market offers prickly pears, there are no excuses. Enjoy!
Nieve de Tuna Fresh Prickly Pear Ice
From Rick Bayless, Authentic Mexican
3 1/2 pounds (about 18 medium) fresh prickly pears (tunas)
1 cup sugar, plus a little more if necessary
About 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Roughly chop the peeled prickly pears. Place the fruit in a blender or food processor, add 1 cup water, the sugar and lime juice, and blend for several minutes, until the sugar is dissolved. Strain through a medium-mesh sieve; taste for sweetness and tartness, adding more sugar or lime juice as necessary. If time permits, chill thoroughly.
Pour the mixture into the canister of ice cream freezer and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. When the ice comes from the machine, it may be rather soft; for a firmer texture, let it “ripen” in your freezer for a couple of hours before serving. Yield: 5 to 6 cups, 6 to 8 servings
To prepare the prickly pears: cut a 1/2-inch slice off both ends of the prickly pears; make a 1/2-inch-deep incision down one side, end to end. Carefully (avoid the little stickers) peel off the rind, starting from incision: The rind is thick and, if ripe, will easily peel away from the central core of fruit.
Traditional Variations: for mango, peach, nectarine or cantaloupe, peel, pit and/or seed about 2 pounds (slightly more for cantaloupe) fruit, to yield 2 cups of fruit pulp. Puree with 1 1/2 cups water, 3/4 to 1 cup sugar, and lime juice to taste.