Desserts are usually not plentiful on a Vietnamese menu. However, you will more than likely find something called ‘Chè’. Chè can be served warm, at room temperature, cold or over ice. In our family, Mom usually makes a huge batch so that we can have some fresh from the kitchen with plenty of individual servings in the refrigerator for us to snack over the next few days.
Probably the closest description for Chè is pudding since it often is a thick texture but there are some that are more watery. There are many types of Chè and the best places to try are at Vietnamese markets, bakery, coffee/tea shops, and then there are just Chè shops (mostly in Southern California). Chè can be made with various combinations of rice, fruits, vegetables, and legumes: banana, coconut, corn, dates, jackfruit, lotus seeds, lychees, plantain, red bean, rice, seaweed, tapioca, taro root, white bean. Coconut milk and tapioca pearls are usually major ingredients and gives the creamy texture to Chè. Some Chè can be topped with sesame seeds or peanuts.
To introduce you to Chè, I’ve chosen a very simple recipe, Chè Bắp (Sweet Corn Pudding). If you have every made the savory creamed corn dish, you will be familiar with how to remove the corn from the cob. Remember to immediately ladle the Chè into the serving dishes once you take it off the heat. When the Chè cools, it thickens like pudding and becomes lumpy looking if portioned into serving dishes.
Sweet Corn Pudding/(Chè Bắp)
- 4 ears fresh corn (yields 3 cups of corn)
- 6 cups of water
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- 4 tbsp corn starch
- 4 oz Coconut Milk (1/2 can)
- 1/2 tsp of vanilla extract
1. Cut the bottom of the corn cob. Stand the corn cob on the cut end. Using a sharp knife, shave the corn off the cob with long smooth downward strokes until you reach the core , rotate the cob as you go. Save the shaven cobs.
2. In a boiling pot of water on medium heat, placed the shaven corn cobs into the pot. Bring to boil and simmer over medium high heat for 30 minutes to create a corn stock. The stock should reduce down by a 1/3.
3. Remove corn cobs from the pot. Stir in the corn kernels and sugar to the corn stock and bring to a boil.
4. Thicken the corn starch with a few tablespoons of cold water. Stir cornstarch mixture into the simmering corn and bring to a boil to thicken. Remove from heat and immediately ladle corn pudding/ Chè into individual serving dishes.
5. In a small sauce pan, add coconut milk and simmer over low heat. Add to coconut milk the vanilla extract and bring to a low boil. Remove from heat. Drizzle 2-3 tbsp of coconut milk over each corn pudding dish.
6. Serve warm, room temperature or chilled (2 hours in refrigerator). Can be refrigerated 2-3 days.