It all started with a random tweet with two lovely Viet food bloggers. “Let’s have a chè off!” (Chè is a Vietnamese term that refers to any traditional Vietnamese sweet dessert soup or pudding) Our desserts aren’t exactly like your rich and decadent European desserts, in my opinion they tend to incorporate fruit, vegetables and beans and topped with coconut milk.
I’d have fond memories of having chè each week when I was younger. My parents would take my sisters and I to Flemington markets on weekends to buy fruit and vegetables, and at the end of our outing we would head to Cabramatta to the cafe my dad goes to daily to catch up with friends and for his daily caffeine hit. Jellies of all colours of the rainbow, fruits and beans are displayed for chè ba màu (3 colour dessert); where you have about 5-6 choices to create a multi-colour dessert drink, which is topped up with coconut milk, sugar syrup and shaved ice. There would also be bowls of different chè on offer at the cafe. On some days I would have fun choosing an assortment of jellies and fruits for my chè ba màu, others days I’ll have the bánh chuối hấp (steamed banana cake) or chè bắp (sweet corn pudding).
I was having trouble trying to figure out what to make. Vietnamese desserts are something I don’t really make. I’ve attempted to make bánh chuối hấp once but failed miserably. Instead of looking something like this, my cake turned out a runny and gluggy mess and there was no way of saving it. After that incident I didn’t want to try making Vietnamese desserts again.
…Until I found a recipe for chè bắp in Luke Nguyen’s Songs of Sapa cookbook. I remember watching him make this at his Auntie 8’s corn business in his first season of Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam. He was there helping sort out the different grades of corn, then he cooks up a batch of sweet corn pudding. In the cookbook he tells us that there’s a debate between his parents and aunties over how it should be cooked, what ingredients should be used and then which version of this dish is better. In the end, he decides that his auntie 8’s version is the better one as he believes it’s most authentic.
During the time I was making this chè my parents were also giving their opinion on the entire cooking process. “You should cut the corn this way” “You need more water” “You shouldn’t use that brand of coconut milk“… That’s parents for you!
Even when I had finished making the chè, my dad told me it was too cluggy and needed more water. I must admit, I may have overcooked it slightly but I just wanted to make sure that the corn had softened. I know it may be tedious work but I’d probably suggest ( if you can or can be bothered to do so) shaving the corn instead of having corn kernels otherwise, cook the corn for about 5-10 minutes in water prior to adding it to the sticky rice.
NB – If you can’t find pandan leaves or tapioca flour, that’s fine, just omit it from the recipe and follow this guideline for tapioca flour substitutions.
Anyway, check out the other entries of the Chè Off.
Chè hoa cau (Vietnamese mung bean dessert soup) by Anh and
Chè cốm (Vietnamese Young Rice Syrup dessert) by Chi Anh.
Recipe from The songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen
Sweet corn pudding
6 corn cobs
100g (1/2 cup) white sticky (glutinous) long-grain rice
2 pandan leaves, each tied in a knot
625mL (2 1/2 cups) water
150g (2/3 cup) sugar
150mL coconut milk
toasted sesame seeds, to serve
Sweet coconut milk
1 tbsp tapioca flour or potato starch
300mL coconut milk
1 pandan leaf, tied in a knot
1/4 tsp salt
For the sweet corn pudding
- Remove the husk and silk from the corn cob. Cut the corn kernels with a sharp knife (make sure you do this in a bowl for a mess-free kitchen and to not remove the hard, inedible cob).
- Wash the sticky rice with cold water and strain until the water is clear (about 3-4 times).
- Place the sticky ice, water and pandan leaves in a medium saucepan.
- Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low, stirring constantly for 5 minute, or until the rice expands and the water has absorbed.
- Stir in the corn kernels and sugar, cooking it for a further 5 minutes.
- Add the coconut milk and continue to cook and stir the pudding until the rice has puffed and the corn softens slightly.
- Discard the pandan leaves.
- Serve warm in small bowls and topped with a couple of tablespoons of sweet coconut milk and toasted sesame seeds.
For the sweet coconut milk
- Combine the tapioca flour with 2 1/2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and stir to form a smooth paste. Set aside.
- Add coconut milk, sugar, pandan and salt in a small saucepan over low heat.
- Stir in the flour mixture (giving it a brief mix before adding as it sets) and continue stirring until the coconut mixture starts to thicken. Take off the heat.
- Discard the pandan leaf.
[NB – Sweet coconut milk can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 days.]