Ice pops for a refreshing, trendy treat
When the temperature soars, we crave something cool to beat the heat — and every culture has its own take, whether it’s Italian gelato, Japanese mochi or the California ice pops that evoke carefree childhood summers. (Turns out Popsicles actually originated in Oakland, Calif. Who knew?)
But colorful ice pops of another sort have begun popping up across the Bay Area, for example — and they’re only new to us. In Mexico, icy, creamy paletas have been sold from street carts and paleterias for generations. Legend has it that the frozen fruit pops date back to the Aztec emperors — perhaps. Evidence is scant. But we do know that the first major paleterias sprang up in the town of Tocumbo in Michoacan and then in Mexticacán in Jalisco, where paleta statues and festivals in each town elevate the ice pop to cultural icon.
Paletas — the name comes from the Spanish word palo, which means stick or shovel — come in a rainbow of colors and flavors, from sweet and fruity to spicy and tangy. Paletas de agua are water or juice-based; paletas de crema are more like ice cream. And both varieties are studded with everything from fresh fruit chunks to spices, chiles, candy and even cookies, in combinations such as mango and chile peppers or tart tamarind and jicama.
At the new Luna Mexican Kitchen in San José, Calif., restaurant co-owner Jo LermaLopez and chef Julio Juarez blend up icy paleta combinations made with organic ingredients. You can try a creamy tamarind version, a jicama-raspberry riff or a spicy mangonada, which combines mango and pineapple with
a housemade chamoy sauce, made with pasilla chiles that bring the heat. Or go boozy with an adults-only paleta made with watermelon and smoky mezcal to balance the sweetness.
“Paletas are something new, something different” for Californians, says Juarez, who grew up in Morelia, Mexico, and fondly recalls icy treats flavored with pineapple, mango, sweet arroz con leche and tamarind. His uncle still owns a paleteria in the Michoacan state.
“Paletas are just fun,” Lerma-Lopez says, “and the flavor possibilities are endless.”
At San Francisco’s Nopalito, chef Gonzalo Guzman dabbles in paleta creativity as well, with a cafe con leche version, as well as a mango con chile. And now you can make them at home, too, thanks to his new cookbook, “Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press, 256 pages, $30), which includes five paleta recipes.
All you need is an ice pop mold and some sticks.
Recipes Nopalito’s Paletas de Cafe con Leche
Makes 12 ice pops
¾ cup coffee beans, coarsely ground 2 cups water
2 medium (8-ounce) cones piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar) or 1 cup brown sugar 2 cups heavy cream
In a medium pot, combine the coffee, 2 cups water and the piloncillo (or brown sugar). Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat and let steep for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. Strain the mixture through a chinois or very fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Stir in the cream and let cool completely. Pour the mixture into 12 3-ounce paleta or popsicle molds, being sure to set the sticks while the mixture is still liquid. Freeze until firm, 6 to 8 hours. Unmold to serve. (Run the molds briefly under hot water if they don’t immediately pop out.) — From “Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen” by Gonzalo Guzman and Stacy Adimando, Ten Speed Press, 2017
Nopalito’s Paletas de Fresas
Makes 10 ice pops
4 cups strawberries, stemmed ¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from ½ orange) ½ cup agave nectar
¼ cup water Zest of ½ lime 1⁄8 teaspoon kosher salt
In a blender, combine the strawberries, orange juice, agave nectar, water, lime zest and salt; blend well until smooth. Pour the mixture into 10
3-ounce paleta or popsicle molds, being sure to set the sticks while the mixture is still liquid. Freeze until firm, 6 to 8 hours. (If necessary to help extract the paletas, run the molds briefly under hot water.) — From “Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen” by Gonzalo Guzman and Stacy Adimando, Ten Speed Press, 2017
Strawberry, creamy almond and blackberry chocolate paletas.
Fruity paletas are photographed at the Luna Mexican Kitchen in San Jose, California. From left, clockwise is tamarindo, jicama raspberry, jicama raspberry mezcal, and mangonada.
Jo Lerma-Lopez, co-owner of San Jose’s Luna Mexican Kitchen, offers adults-only ice pops — mezcal watermelon paletas — as well as kid-friendly versions.
Mezcal balances the sweetness of watermelon in the adults-only paletas served at San Jose’s Luna Mexican Kitchen.
Mango and pineapple meets spicy chamoy sauce in this popular mangonada paleta served at Luna Mexican Kitchen.