Seattle finds summer sizzle in Mexican ice pops
"We had one, a chocolate ice cream with a Mexican caramel swirl and chocolate-covered grasshoppers — we couldn't make enough of it. Seattle has kind of become a daring food town."
MOST KIDS grow up following the ringing bells of the ice-cream truck. For Justin Cline, it was the paletas cart.
He grew up in Los Angeles "with the paletas guys walking up and down the streets," selling the traditional Mexican ice pops.
The ice pops, loaded with the fresh fruits that are their usual hallmark and some extra dashes of personality, are becoming a mainstream treat in cities with hotter summers or closer connections to Mexico. Ethnic groceries here do sell them, but often they're artificially flavored rather than vibrantly fresh. So when Cline opened up his Full Tilt Ice Cream shops, now in White Center, Columbia City, the University District and Ballard, he set out to do the real deal. These days, they're a full-scale summer specialty, with Cline and crew making flavors like strawberry-basil or cucumber-lime-jalapeño or Mexican walnut, then molding them in batches of 200 at a time.
Customers have embraced them, once the staff explained that "basically, they're just Popsicles," Cline says, containing enough sugar that they don't freeze rock-hard, and made with popping-bright ingredients, some texturized by chunks of fruits or vegetables or nuts.
Fany Gerson, a fine-dining chef turned paletas-cart-and-store owner in New York, writes in her book "Paletas" (Ten Speed Press, $16.99) that the treats are exceptional for several reasons. They're found everywhere in Mexico, she says, in an incredible array of flavors from tamarind to avocado to hibiscus, adapted to modern palates with sweet, salty, spicy and sour notes.
At Full Tilt, customers have taken on even the more unusual flavors, says Cline. "We haven't had a flavor where people are like "Nope!" he adds. "We had one, a chocolate ice cream with a Mexican caramel swirl and chocolate-covered grasshoppers — we couldn't make enough of it.
"Seattle has kind of become a daring food town."
Now Cline's going full circle, ordering "Icicle Tricycles" from a Portland vendor and working with the city of Seattle to get permission to take the pops on the road and pedal his own paletas carts around our neighborhoods — thousands of miles north from where he began, but still refreshingly wonderful.
Rebekah Denn is a Seattle food writer and blogger. Mike Siegel is a Seattle Times staff photographer.
Paleta de Pepino con Limon y Chili
Makes 6 paletas in standard-size molds*
2 large cucumbers, peeled and chopped (reserve about a 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 to 1/2 finely chopped jalapeño, seeds removed (wear rubber gloves to protect your hands, and wash well afterward)
4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest of two limes
In a blender, add the cucumbers, lime juice, jalapeño, sugar and salt. Blend until smooth. Mix in reserved chopped cucumbers and lime zest. Pour into molds and freeze.
Paletas de Fresa con LaAlbahaca
Makes 6 paletas in standard size molds*
1 pint strawberries, hulled
4 tablespoons sugar
6 large basil leaves
1/4 cup water
Pinch of salt
Slice 3 or 4 berries and set aside. Puree the remaining berries, sugar, basil, water and salt in a blender. Put the reserved sliced berries in the ice-pop molds and pour the blended mix over them. Freeze.
*If you don't have paleta molds, Cline says you can pour the mix into Dixie cups and add an ice-pop stick for freezing. Or make like his mom did, putting the mix in ice-cube trays, covering the trays with plastic wrap, and poking a toothpick through before freezing.
— Recipes courtesy of Justin Cline