A typical green bean soup contains gingko nuts. How about a different version with sago pearls and sweet potato?
Plus, this version gives you two classic Chinese desserts in one bowl: green bean soup and sweet potato soup.
Use a lot of pandan leaves for plenty of aroma and flavour to the soup.
While sago pearls lend a slippery, chewy texture to the dessert, those who are unfamiliar with cooking them may encounter the problem of white cores in cooked sago pearls, which occur when they are not cooked through.
To fix this, boil the pearls uncovered for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat, cover the pot and allow the pearls to continue cooking in residual heat for 15 to 20 minutes.
Unsoaked beans take about 45 minutes to cook in a claypot. Soaking them overnight for eight hours should halve the cooking time.
The texture of the soup will thicken as the dessert cools, especially when it is kept chilled. Adjust the amount of water and sugar to suit your preference.
500g mung beans, washed and rinsed
5.8 litres water
106g pandan leaves (16)
80g sago pearls
400g brown sugar in pieces or slabs
1 Tbs loose brown sugar
1 pinch salt
4 sweet potatoes (445g) peeled
1. Place beans in the pot. Add 3.6 litres of water and pandan leaves.
2. Bring to a boil and cook covered over medium heat for 45 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, in another pot, bring 1.4 litres of water to a boil. Add the sago pearls and boil uncovered, over medium heat, for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover for 15 to 20 minutes until the pearls are cooked through and clear with no white cores.
4. Transfer the sago pearls into a metal sieve and discard the cooking liquid.
5. With the pearls still in the sieve, rinse them with tap water.
6. Transfer the pearls into a bowl of 800ml of iced water. Soak for five to 10 minutes. Strain and set aside. Discard the iced water.
7. Peel the sweet potatoes and soak in water. Cut them into 3.5cm-thick chunks and continue soaking them. Set aside.
8. In the pot of beans, add the brown sugar slabs, loose brown sugar and salt.
9. Add the sweet potatoes and simmer over medium-low heat for seven to 10 minutes until the sugar is dissolved and the sweet potatoes are tender.
10. Add the sago pearls and let the mixture come to a gentle simmer. Turn off the heat.
11. Serve hot or chilled.
Why make kaya when you can buy it?
For one thing, it is a good way to give your arms a workout – there is a lot of whisking involved.
You will also be helping to keep a waning tradition alive.
The old-school method of extracting milk from freshly grated coconut is ideal. But given the difficulty of obtaining this even before Covid-19 times, you can replace the 750g of freshly grated coconut and 300ml of water used in this recipe with 500ml of store-bought coconut milk.
Even with this shortcut, kaya is not easy to make. It demands patience and effort. But trust me, it is worth the hard work.
6 pandan leaves, cut into 4cm lengths
2 Tbs water
750g freshly grated coconut
300ml water (to get 500ml coconut milk)
6 fresh eggs (60g each)
100g sugar for caramel
4 pandan leaves, knotted
Double boiler, three muslin cloth bags and two medium-sized jars
1. Place the cut pandan leaves and 2 Tbs of water in a blender. Blend into a pulp.
2. Transfer the pulp into a muslin bag and squeeze to extract the pandan juice. Reserve 4 Tbs of the pandan juice and discard the pulp.
3. Place the grated coconut in a large bowl. Add 300ml of water and let the mixture stand for 20 minutes. Place the mixture in a muslin bag and squeeze to extract the coconut milk. Reserve 500ml of the coconut milk and discard the pulp.
4. In a bowl, crack the eggs and add 250g of sugar. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and add the coconut milk. Stir briefly.
5. Strain the coconut milk and egg mixture through a clean muslin bag into the upper container of a double boiler. Set aside.
6. In a saucepan, place 100g of sugar. Over low heat, melt the sugar to caramelise it and turn off the heat.
7. Fill the lower pot of the double boiler with 500ml of water and place the upper pot over it, uncovered. Heat the double boiler over low heat. Pour the caramelised sugar into the coconut milk and egg mixture.
8. The sugar will solidify but will gradually dissolve as the mixture heats up.
9. Whisk occasionally for the first 15 minutes. Add the pandan leaves and whisk continuously for another 15 minutes.
10. Remove the leaves and add the pandan juice. Whisk constantly for another 15 to 30 minutes until the kaya reaches a thicker consistency.
11. Remove the kaya from the double boiler and transfer into a clean bowl to cool.
12. If you want a smoother consistency, run the kaya through a blender.
13. Store in airtight glass jars in the fridge. It should keep for up to a week.
Try making bubur pulut hitam – a black sticky rice dessert that requires only six ingredients.
The main ingredient is unpolished, short-grain glutinous rice of a dark purple hue which should be washed and rinsed thoroughly. Some housewives tell me they soak the rice before cooking.
To save time and effort, I put the rice to boil right away. The dessert should have a sticky, gooey consistency, but do not boil the rice until it turns to mush.
This is also a dessert one appreciates for its texture. The rice grains should be cooked to the point that they are tender yet chewy.
You can use granulated sugar but palm sugar does make a difference with its aromatic qualities. When using palm sugar, chop it up for it to dissolve quickly. If you cannot get hold of palm sugar, brown sugar is a good substitute.
Fresh coconut milk or cream is a bonus, but coconut cream out of the box works just as well.
300g black glutinous rice
8 pandan leaves
2.5 litres water
150g gula jawa (Indonesian palm sugar)
1 tsp salt
100ml coconut cream
1. Soak and wash the black glutinous rice thoroughly until the water runs clear.
2. Add the pandan leaves and 2.5 litres of water. Bring to a boil.
3. Boil covered for 40 minutes over medium heat.
4. Add the gula jawa and stir.
5. Turn the heat down to medium-low and boil for another 15 to 20 minutes.
6. Add the salt, stir and let the mixture come to a simmer. Turn off the heat.
7. Drizzle coconut cream when serving.
I used a regular popsicle mould because I do not have a rectangular one. If you do not have popsicle moulds, use freezer-friendly containers.
For a little twist on the traditional red bean potong, I usually add dried Mandarin orange peel because I have a stash of it in my fridge, for making red bean soup. Potong purists may see red at this, but I like that citrusy flavour.
For a pop of colour, you can, although it is not necessary, add two drops of rose pink food colouring.
If you do not have food colouring, try a few drops of grenadine – if you have it at home.
The most wonderful part about making this popsicle is that you can make sure it is chock-full of red beans.
If you like your potong ice cream totally smooth, you can blend all of the red beans. I prefer my potong lolly to have a more textured bite.
500g red beans
2 litres of water
400ml coconut cream
10 pandan leaves, knotted into two bunches
1 piece of dried Mandarin orange peel
2 drops of rose pink food colouring (optional)
½ tsp salt
1. Soak the red beans for at least two hours.
2. Wash and rinse the red beans.
3. Place the red beans in a pot and fill with two litres of water. Bring to a boil.
4. Add the knotted pandan leaves and orange peel to the pot.
5. Simmer for about two hours. Stir to prevent the beans from getting stuck to the bottom of the pot and burning. 6. Before the end of two hours, add the sugar and salt. Remove the pot from the heat.
7. Set aside about half of the red beans.
8. Remove the pandan leaves from the pot and discard.
9. Add the coconut cream to the remaining red beans in the pot and blend.
10. Add two drops of rose pink food colouring. Continue to blend until the colour is even.
11. Put the mixture back on the stove and bring it to a simmer. Turn off the heat.
12. Add the reserved red beans. Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature.
13. Spoon the mixture into popsicle moulds. 14. Freeze overnight.
15. To remove the potong ice cream from the mould, let the mould stand in a water bath (without the water coming into contact with the potong ice cream) for two or three minutes.
Makes about 16 popsicles
The highlight of the dessert is the topping of you tiao (fried dough sticks).
Given the circuit breaker measures, it might be a little tough to get hold of you tiao. Then simply go without – it just means less calories. But if you do have you tiao, toast it and cut it into pieces just before serving. The savoury and crispy pieces complement the sticky sweet texture of the tau suan.
It does require some patience to caramelise the sugar. Do it over low heat and you should get a beautiful rich caramel.
300g mung beans
12 pandan leaves
2½ litres water
140g sweet potato flour
3 Tbs sugar (optional)
4 you tiao (fried dough sticks, toasted and cut into bite-sized pieces)
1. Soak the mung beans for two hours. Drain off water and rinse.
2. Cut four pandan leaves and place them with the mung beans in a heat-proof bowl.
3. Steam on high heat for 20 to 25 minutes. Check that the mung beans are cooked but not split.
4. Discard the pandan leaves.
5. In the meantime, in a sturdy stainless steel pot, heat the sugar over low heat. Do not stir until the sugar caramelises.
6. Boil the water in a separate pot and add to the caramel. The caramel will crystallise but will melt eventually.
7. Add the remaining pandan leaves into the pot of syrup.
8. Mix the sweet potato flour with 100ml of water to dissolve it. Add the mixture to the syrup.
9. Add the steamed mung beans to the syrup. If you find the mixture not sweet enough, add the sugar.
10. Stir and turn off the heat.
11. Discard the pandan leaves.
12. Serve hot and garnish with you tiao pieces.
Yields eight servings
Instead of the more commonly sold red bean soup, the red bean in this version is cooked until it achieves a paste-like consistency.
To shorten the cooking time, soak the red beans for three hours or overnight prior to cooking. But it is also possible to cook red beans without soaking them first. I took the easier way out by using a heatproof handheld blender to blitz the beans into a smooth paste.
You should adjust the boiling time depending on the pot and stove you are using. Cook the beans until they have split and softened, and then you can blend them.
Add a little more water if you prefer it less thick. I like my red bean soup more full-bodied.
To add more texture and nutrition, I put in two traditional accompanying ingredients: bai he (lily bulbs) and lian zi (lotus seeds). I have a small quantity of each in my dried goods collection in the fridge. Leave them out if you cannot get hold of them.
I usually cook a big batch, divide the paste into containers and keep them in the fridge to eat as a snack or dessert over a few days. Halve the quantities of the ingredients and adjust the amount of sugar if you want to cook a smaller batch.
500g red beans
5.1 litres water (3.5 litres for cooking red beans, 1.6 litres for cooking lily bulbs and lotus seeds, 2 Tbs for mixing with cornflour)
1 piece of dried mandarin orange peel (2g)
8 pandan leaves
250g honey rock sugar
50g rock sugar
100g dried lily bulbs
100g dried lotus seeds
30g white sugar
1 Tbs cornflour
Equipment: Handheld blender
1. Wash and rinse the red beans.
2. In a sturdy pot, add the beans and 3.5 litres of water. Bring to a boil over high heat.
3. Add the dried mandarin orange peel and pandan leaves.
4. Cover and boil over high heat for 90 minutes or until beans are cooked and have softened. Turn off the heat.
5. Remove the pandan leaves and dried mandarin orange peel. Discard.
6. Place the pot on a sturdy surface.
7. Use handheld blender to blend beans. Place pot back on stove.
8. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Add honey rock sugar and rock sugar; stir until dissolved. Turn off the heat and set aside.
9. Bring 600ml of water to a boil.
10. Place dried lily bulbs in a heatproof bowl and lotus seeds in another heatproof bowl.
11. Pour enough water to cover lily bulbs and lotus seeds. Leave to soak for 45 minutes.
12. Discard water and rinse.
13. Bring 1 litre of water to a boil over medium heat. Add the lily bulbs and lotus seeds. Boil for 30 minutes. Remove from pot and discard water.
14. Bring red bean mixture to a simmering boil.
15. Add lily bulbs and lotus seeds.
16. Add white sugar.
17. Simmer covered for 15 minutes, stirring often.
18. Mix 1 Tbs cornflour with 2 Tbs of water. Stir this into the red bean mixture and let it come to a gentle simmer. Turn off the heat.
19. Serve hot.
Serves eight to 10
This article was first published in The Straits Times.