Split Pea “Cake”

The term “cake” is a bit misleading here – this sweet is really more like a jelly or stiff pudding, but as it is served in slices it seems appropriate to call it a cake. The ingredients may be a bit off-putting – who puts split peas into dessert?! – but you’ll be surprised at how delicious (and nutrtitious) this is. You can find split peas in the dreid beans section of most conventional grocery stores. A good dessert to make ahead for a Chinese meal or to have on hand to serve with tea, it seems like Chinese New Year (gongxi facai!) is a good day to post this.

ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb yellow split peas
  • 1/2 c sugar, raw cane is best
  • 2 T honey
  • water

method:

  1. Sort through the peas carefully, removing any grit and green peas from them, then rinse well.
  2. If you have a rice cooker, you can cook the peas with 1.75 c water as you would rice; if you use a pot to cook rice, used 2.5 c water (see Basic Steamed Rice).
  3. Add the sugar and honey, mixing well, then puree in the blender until completely smooth.
  4. In a saucepan (avoid aluminum or iron, which will cause discoloration of the paste), cook the mixture until when dropped from a spoon it mounds on the top instead of instantly disappearing into the mixture. This can take up to 30 m.
  5. Scrape into an 8″ or 9″ square baking pan, cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for 5-6 h until completely set.
  6. Cut into squares, diamonds, or other shapes, and serve.

accompaniments:

  • For added color, you can cut jellied cranberry sauce into pretty shapes and add them to the top of each piece.
  • This also goes well with a fresh fruit sauce, such as a raspberry coulis, which would add color and a bit of acid to cut the sweetness of the cake.

Eight Jewels Rice

Dessert is rather an anomaly in a traditional Chinese meal – sometimes there is a sweet soup made of beans and/or barley, but most often fresh fruit is served. Nowadays you can find all sorts of fancy western-style cakes and pastries in China, but true Chinese desserts are few and far between. Some restaurants in America offer a selection of desserts, many of which were invented to please the American taste for something sweet to end a meal. But “Eight Jewels Rice” (babaofan in Mandarin) is truly Chinese – a sort of sweet and sticky rice pudding made with (presumably) eight types of dried or preserved fruits and nuts. You can buy canned red bean paste at Asian groceries, but it’s just as easy (and probably healthier) to make your own. Glutinous rice is a very short-grained rice which is now more frequently available in brown and mixed versions as well as the more common white. The garnish ingredients are sometimes arranged in a decorative pattern in the bowl, but you can also mix them into the cooked rice.

ingredients:

  • 1.5 c glutinous rice
  • 1.5 c water
  • 1 T oil for greasing the bowl

filling:

  • 1 c cooked dark red kidney beans, cooking liquid reserved
  • 1 T honey, more to taste
  • 1 T oil (optional)

garnish:

  • 1 c total dried fruits (larger ones may be cut into strips or chopped coarsely: raisins, dates, apricots, cherries, cranberries, mangoes, …)and nuts (unbroken halves make the best presentation: peanuts, cashews, almonds, …)

sauce:

  • 1/2 c sugar (white is best)
  • 1/2 c water

method:

  1. Rinse and drain the rice, then cook according to Basic Steamed Rice recipe. Keep warm.
  2. Use a food processor to puree the beans with the honey and oil, adding the cooking liquid 1 T at a time until it reaches a thick paste consistency.
  3. Grease a heatproof bowl (approximately 6-8″ across).
  4. Mix the garnish ingredients into the rice or arrange them in a design over the bottom of the bowl (and up the sides if you’d like).
  5. Gently press 3/4 of the rice mixture into the bowl, taking care not to disturb the pattern if you went that route. It should be about 1/2″ thick all around.
  6. Add the red bean mixture to the middle, then use the rest of the rice to seal in the filling.
  7. Wet your hands with cold water and smooth the surface, pressing down very gently to remove any air pockets.
  8. Place the bowl in a steamer and steam for 45 m.
  9. Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer just until all the sugar is dissolved approximately 1 m.
  10. Remove the bowl from the steamer and run a knife around the edges of the “pudding,” being careful not to disturb the design if you made one.
  11. Invert onto a plate, pour the sauce over, and serve with a spoon or you can try cutting into wedges and serving as you would a cake.

do ahead:

The “pudding” can be assembled and steamed up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered in the bowl, once it cools to room temperature. Or you can freeze it, tightly covered, in the bowl for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator 24-48 h before using. Reheat it by steaming for 30 m.

Almond “Jello”

Dessert, anyone? It’s very rare to have dessert with a meal in China (at least something that fits the conventional American definition of dessert), but you’ll often find fresh fruit to round out the meal. I’m guessing that this dish was probably invented to appease the American demand for a sweet at the end of a meal, and as far as desserts go, it can be pretty healthy.

This is a deliciously cool summer dessert that can be served with any type of fruit – hopefully NOT the canned fruit cocktail you see it with in restaurants!

the “jello”
1 pkg unflavored gelatin (would love to hear your suggestions for alternative thickeners!)
1/3 c cold water
2/3 c boiling water
1/4 c sugar (I generally make an exception and use white can sugar in place of my usual brown or raw here)
2/3 c low or non-fat milk
1 tsp almond extract (the real stuff is always better, but imitation will do in a pinch)
the fruit
4 c cut up seasonal fruit: stone fruits such as peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries, pineapple, orange sections (without the membrane is best), mandarin orange sections, grapes….
1/4 c sugar
1/4 c water
1/4 tsp almond extract

Soften the gelatin in the cold water in a saucepan.
Turn heat on to low, and stir until gelatin is dissolved.
Add the boiling water and 1/4 c sugar.
Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Add the milk and almond extract.
Stir well, then pour into an 8x8x2 pan or a loaf pan, and chill until firm. (3-4 h)
In the meantime, make a simple syrup by combining the 1/4 c sugar with 1/4 c water in a saucepan.
Bring just to a boil, turn off the heat, and add the 1/4 tsp extract. Cool to room temperature.
Combine the syrup with the cut up fruit and chill, along with the serving bowls.
When the “jello” is firm, cut it into 1/2″ cubes, carefully remove the cubes to serving bowls.
Top with fruit mixture, and serve.

do ahead:
The “jello” and fruit can be made and chilled up to 24 h before serving. Be sure to cover the “jello” with a plate or plastic wrap to keep it from getting rubbery.

some substitutions:
Almond milk can be used in place of the milk, but you will need to play with the amount of sugar and extract you add, as many almond milks are sweetened. Use your instinct – taste and adjust!

In the summer, when fruits are sweet, you can play with the amount of simple syrup you add or leave it out altogether.

Try adding a hint of mint, basil, or cilantro – just a bit of chopped herbs steeped in the simple syrup as it cools. You can then leave it in or strain it out.

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