To a foodie accustomed to the Western approach to food, it would seem strange to consider soup as a dessert, but not so for the Chinese. Sweet, sour, savory or bitter, hot or cold, we love them all the same for their ability to bring the body’s ‘hot’ and ‘cool’ levels back in balance. Dine at any hawker center in Singapore and chances are there will be at least two stalls selling a variety of desserts, including light, refreshing soups such as Red Bean soup, Green Bean soup and Cheng Tng as well as coconut-laden creations such as Bubur Chacha, Ice Kachang and Chendol.
A variant of the green bean soup, today’s dessert features dried, shelled and split green beans which are boiled and steamed before being stirred into a sweetened, pandan-infused soup thickened with potato starch. Commonly known by its Hokkien name, tau suan, or lek tau suan, this dessert is served warm and topped with crispy slices of you tiao (Chinese donuts). When done well, the final dish should present a multitude of small yellow beans, still whole, that appear to be floating in a clear, thick liquid, and each spoonful yielding a consistency slightly similar to porridge. Apart from being a highly popular ‘anytime’ snack for Singaporeans, this dish also has sentimental value for my high school classmate, M, who grew to love the dish as a child under her late father’s influence.
To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of this dessert. I found the overall consistency to be a little strange: it wasn’t exactly a soup in the conventional sense, with a liquid broth, yet, although thick, it wasn’t quite like a jelly or a pudding either. I was more fascinated with how each bean floated in the thick broth, individual entities suspended in a combination of starch and syrup, and of course, in loading up on the bits of you tiao that added a savory dimension to the dish. After putting this dessert together for this post, however, I think I’ve developed a renewed appreciation for these little yellow beans, and a quest to find the perfect you tiao recipe. My donuts came out of the deep fryer resembling overcooked dough more than the airy brown crisps of my memory, despite having the right flavors. You might want to give Lily’s recipe a try to accompany the following recipe, and if you do, I’d love to hear about your experience.
Split Green Bean Soup (adapted from The Best Of Singapore Cooking)
Makes 12 to 15 servings
1½ pounds/ 680 grams dried shelled mung beans, rinse and soaked for at least 5 to 6 hours, if not overnight
30 ounces/ 850 grams granulated sugar
1½ cups/ 360 ml and 4.2 pints/ 2 litres water
5 ounces/ 145 grams potato starch
18 pandan leaves
When you’re ready to prepare the soup, remove any loose skin from the beans and drain. Cover them with water in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. Leave the beans to boil for at least 10 minutes until foam starts to form on the surface. While the beans are boiling, prepare a large bowl of cold water. When the beans are ready, drain in a colander then immerse them in the bowl of cold water very briefly, and drain again. Be sure to rinse off any remaining residue from the beans.
Place the beans in a steamer and leave to steam at high heat for at least 15 minutes. The beans should swell, but not split. Once steamed, spread the beans to cool on a tray.
Prepare the syrup – combine the sugar, 1½ cups water and 8 pandan leaves in a saucepan at low heat, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar and to achieve a syrupy texture. Set aside to cool.
Tie the remaining pandan leaves into a knot and place in a saucepan with the rest of the water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, mix the potato starch with an additional 1½ cups of water and sieve the liquid into a large pot. When the pandan/water mixture is ready, immediately pour the liquid into the starch mixture, stirring constantly as you pour to prevent the starch from adhering to the bottom of the pot. Add the syrup, bring the mixture to a boil, then add the steamed beans and keep the soup on low heat until it boils.
Serve hot in individual bowls topped with sliced pieces of you tiao.