Lotus Seed and Longan Sweet Soup (Che Hat Sen Long Nhan)

Yum
  • Preparation: 30 mins
  • Cooking: 20 mins
  • Skill level: Medium
  • Servings: 4

Description Lotus Seed and Longan Sweet Soup (Chè Hạt Sen Long Nhãn)

Warm Vietnamese sweet soups may be rich and thick, like the preceding recipe, or light and clear, like this one. Here, buttery lotus seeds are paired with longans, a Southeast Asian fruit similar to lychees. During cooking, the dried longans give off a slightly smoky vanilla scent, which is underscored by the vanilla extract. My father swears that this soothing soup helps him sleep soundly. For me, the draw is the interplay among texture, taste, and fragrance.
Lotus seeds normally require long simmering, but they quickly reconstitute when boiled with baking soda, as is done here. (The alkalinity and salt content of baking soda speeds the cooking.) When shopping for the lotus seeds, choose slightly opened ones that have had their bitter green centers removed. If you can’t tell from the packages whether they have been removed, choose one of the higher-priced brands. Dried longans resemble giant raisins and are often shelved near the lotus seeds in Chinese and Vietnamese markets. Look for both of them in the same aisle where you find dried mushrooms and beans.

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 package (5 or 6 ounces) dried white lotus seeds, rinsed and drained
  • 5 cups water
  • 3 ounces (about ¾ cup) dried longans, rinsed and drained
  • ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Method Lotus Seed and Longan Sweet Soup (Chè Hạt Sen Long Nhãn)

1, Put the baking soda in a medium saucepan and add water to fill the pan halfway. Bring to a boil over high heat and add the lotus seeds. When the water returns to a rolling boil and threatens to rise over the sides of the pan, remove the pan from the heat but don’t turn off the burner. When the boiling subsides, after about 20 seconds, return the pan to the heat. Bring it back to a vigorous, threatening boil and remove from the heat again until the boiling subsides. Repeating the boiling one more time, and then pour the lotus seeds into a colander to drain. They will have expanded and be tender yet still firm.
2, Transfer the seeds to a bowl. Rinse them in several changes of water, swirling the seeds gently to coax any leftover pearly skins to float upward and then pouring out the water. After removing most of the skin bits, drain the seeds. Inspect each seed to ensure the bitter green centers have been removed. As needed, gently pry open the seed and extract the center.
3, Return the lotus seeds to the saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower the heat to a very gentle simmer, and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the seeds are tender but not mushy. Use a large spoon to skim and discard any scum that floats to the top. Add the longans and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, or until the longans have expanded and softened. Expect the water to cloud slightly. It will settle later.
4, Add the sugar and stir gently to dissolve. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes. (Lotus Seed and Longan Sweet Soup may be prepared up to 3 days in advance, tightly covered, and refrigerated. Warm before serving.) To serve, ladle into small bowls.

Chef's Note

This Vietnamese Dessert from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors by Andrea Nguyen

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