For us, chè bưởi (pomelo pudding or pomelo dessert soup) is a dish that always sounds so appealing, yet is perpetually disappointing (and we’re not alone). The name chè bưởi promises so much more than is actually delivered – the laborious process to produce palatable pomelo pith plunders away all of that lovely floral citrus scent. This loss is traditionally compensated for by adding essence of hoa bưởi (pomelo flowers) or hoa cau (areca nut palm flowers), but the results are not the same.
While researching candied peel for our gỏi bưởi / pomelo salad dish, we found a simpler way to process pomelo pith that also preserved its natural scent. The resulting chè bưởi was lovely all by its fragrant self, or further decorated with fresh lilacs:
To make chè bưởi:
- We peeled a pomelo, keeping as much of the pith together as possible.
- Enjoyed our pomelo.
- Diced the pith & peel pieces. Traditionally only the pith were used but keeping the pith and peel together made the final product more fragrant, but also somewhat spicier with pomelo peel oil.
- Tossed the diced pith/peel pieces into a pot of cold water and brought it to a boil.
- Drained out water, replaced with more cold water and brought it to a boil again.
- Repeated once more.
- We did a taste test here after squeezing dry a sacrificial piece: the bitterness of the pith and spiciness of the peel should have been mostly gone by this point. If not we repeated the cold water to boiling cycle once more. Three cycles had been enough whenever we processed the pith and peel separately. Getting rid of the spiciness of pomelo peel oil was more challenging when it was protected by a thick layer of pith.
Up to this point we had been following a French recipe for processing candied orange peel. The traditional Vietnamese technique for getting rid of pith bitterness involved scrubbing the pith pieces (no peel at all) with salt, then cycles of rinsing and squeezing dry, until both the saltiness and bitterness were gone. (3 cycles of scrubbing with salt, then rinsings and squeezings were sometimes necessary.) A boil in water brought the traditional pith pieces to the same point as we were at above, except the traditional pieces were then devoid of pomelo fragrance.
The next step in the French recipe was boiling the pomelo pieces in a near saturated sugar solution. We switched over to a simpler Vietnamese recipe at this point:
- Pomelo pith/peel pieces were squeezed dry and rolled in just enough sugar to have all the pieces well covered.
- We slowly added drops of water while tossing the pieces vigorously until the sugar crystals were mostly dissolved – The minimal amount of water had carried the sugar into the dry spongy pith interior.
- We spreaded the pieces out to dry overnight, and had candied peel and pith the next day.
While the pith/peel pieces were at a stable point, we prepared the rest of the chè bưởi ingredients:
- Soaked ~150g of shelled mung bean in water for at least an hour, then drained
- Cooked mung bean in a lidded pot: first brought water and mung bean to a boil, then drained out as much water as possible, returned the lidded pot to very low heat and simmered the remnant water away until mung bean was soft. Spread the mung bean on a plate to dry.
- Added 1.5 cups of sugar to 1 liter of water in a different pot, brought it to a boil
- Suspended 3 tablespoons of tapioca flour in cold water, turned off heat on the sugar water pot and poured in the tapioca suspension while stirring briskly. The tapioca were still mostly suspended at this point, so we didn’t pause and proceeded immediately to the next steps.
Putting it all together:
- We returned to the candied pomelo peel and pith pieces and dusted them with tapioca flour.
- Brought tapioca sugar water pot back to a boil and added in the tapioca coated pomelo pieces. Cooked the pomelo pieces until their tapioca coating turned clear. The tapioca coating gave the pomelo pieces a unique crunchy/chewy texture.
- Gently stirred in the cooked mung bean.
- Portioned everything in the pot into bowls and garnished with coconut milk and lilac flowers (if available). Chè bưởi could also be served as a refreshing cold dessert.
Ah, much better and more rewarding than the times we tried to make chè bưởi the traditional way. We loved pomelo fragrance, so being able to preserve that and have it expressed naturally in the end product was a big plus. The balanced natural base of pomelo fragrance also lent itself to being further decorated with other floral scents like lilac. In traditional chè bưởi, the appeal of the pith pieces were in their unique crunchy and chewy texture. Without the peel, the pith pieces processed the new way were almost indistinguishable from the traditional pieces. With the peel still on the pith, the combination of crunchiness and chewiness were still there, only in different proportions, and still fun to eat. Finally, the simpler way of processing pomelo peel and pith allowed for parallel preparation of other ingredients, leaving us with more time and energy to savor the more fragrant fruits of our labor.
06/04/11 ADDENDUM : We wrote about multiple ways to make chè bưởi and used pictures from when we processed them intact, but we’d liked to specifically recommend separating the peel from the pith before processing them together. Good results were possible with pith and peel intact, but not worth the extra effort of ridding pith and peel of spicy pomelo oil. Also, chè bưởi is more fun with pith cubes and peel strands floating about rather than just cubes of pith and peel.
Also, we found that a really convenient way to cook mung beans was to use our rice cooker. The ones we are familiar with were designed to cook at high temperature until the water was boiled off then hold at a warming temperature – exactly what we wanted to do with the beans. After soaking the beans for an hour, we drained most of the water out then added the beans to rice cooker. A few drops to a teaspoon of oil should prevent excessive foaming. When the rice cooker switches over to warming mode, we had tender but separate cooked beans.