Every once in a while when the planets align the right way with the constellations, I get into cooking mode. Then I ask my mom how to make certain things, usually easy stuff, spend at least an hour at the grocery, another half a day in front of either the sink or the stove, washing, churning, tasting, sprinkling, and tasting again. Saying that I like to cook would be like saying students hate holidays, but somehow the little accomplishment at the end of a cooking session always makes me glee, partly because I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner in the few days after. (Since the first day I had a kitchen(ette), I’ve only made savory dishes.) This time is special: I didn’t spend half a day in the kitchen, and the little accomplishment is a dessert.
Now this might actually means I have che instead of rice for dinner in the next few days :-P, but all is well as my banana che is not in the least coyingly sweet like che from sandwich shops.
Chè chuối chưng (banana tapioca pudding) (“chưng” means “display”, in this case to indicate the type of banana one would use for this dessert, not “tapioca”)
– About 3 lbs of just-ripe banana (~6 big Cavendish bananas, or 12-15 chuoi su if you can find them).
– 1 can of coconut milk
– 100-150g tapioca pearl (bột báng), the small kind (packaged as dry white dots ~1.5mm in diameter). I got a 400g package from 99 Ranch Market in El Cerrito, so I’d imagine every Asian market has a few packs tucked on their shelves.
– water, sugar, salt
– roasted peanuts (the plain, unflavored kind)
– Gently wash and rinse the bot bang with cold water once, then leave it soak in water.
– Cut the bananas into 2-3 inch long sections, soak in salt water (2 tsp salt for roughly half a big pot of water, the same pot you’re going to cook che in) for 5-10 minutes. This step is to get rid of, or at least reduce, the clinging underripe aftertaste of Cavendish banana in Vietnamese desserts; you can skip this step if you use chuoi su.
– Shell peanuts if necessary, then crush ’em up. (Mudpie puts them in a ziploc bag and pounds on them with an ice cream scoop, it works well :D)
– Take out the bananas, drain water, wash pot, put bananas back in. Pour 1 can of coconut milk into pot, then use the same can to measure and add 2 cans of water.
– Wait for banana, coconut milk and water to boil, add a pinch of salt and a lot of sugar to taste. (I added about 10 tbs sugar when Mudpie expresses some concern, tastes, and stops me.)
– When the mixture boils, add bot bang (after draining them, of course), gently stir once or twice to spread them out evenly in the pot.
– Bot bang will expand, at least quadruple in size. Do not stir too much or you’d burst the pearls and get tapioca porridge. Let the pot bubble until the bot bang all turn completely translucent (if you see a tiny needle-point size dot of white in the center, it’s not cooked yet).
– Turn off the heat. The pudding will be quite fluid when it’s still hot, and will thicken as it cools down.
It can be served either hot or chilled, with or without some crushed roasted peanuts on top. Mudpie prefers it warm fresh from the pot, my mom prefers it refrigerated.
A small variation of che chuoi chung is chè bà ba, where you add taro (or cassava), cubed and cooked in coconut milk and water before the bananas. My mom says che chuoi chung is the simplest kind of che to make. As long as the bananas are soft and sweet, the tapioca pearls chewy and fully puffed, the coconut milk gives just a shy squeeze of fruity richness, and the pudding smells like a ripe summer afternoon, you know someone will come back for a second bowl of your chè chuối chưng.
– Submission to Delicious Vietnam 10, a monthly blogging event created by Anh of A Food Lover’s Journey and Hong & Kim from Ravenous Couple – This February edition is hosted by me, so send your delicious writings (your name, your blog’s name, post title, and a brilliant image of the dish) to mai [at] flavorboulevard [dot] com by Sunday February 13.