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Jun03

Towards an easier, more fragrant chè bưởi (pomelo pudding)

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:

Chè bưởi topped with coconut milk and 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.

Diced pomelo peel and pith

  • 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.

Pomelo peel and pith being cooked in water

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.

Candied pomelo peel and pith

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.

Candied pomelo peel and pith coated 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.

A bowl of chè bưởi topped with coconut milk

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.

 

Comments

  1. Wow, this looks amazing. This dish is so deceptively simple yet so so hard to make and to make it right. Yum yum…

    It looks to me that your mung beans are still quite separate and not at all mushy – what’s the secret for that?!? I love it soft but not mushy….

    Also, I think for thickness, bot san day is probably better than tapioca flour – supposedly healthy and with more fragrance?

    • Hi Linh,

      Thanks for the comments and question.

      To get the bean soft but separate, we just heated beans gently without stirring, and when adding the beans to chè, we stirred very gently. We’ve also just found a convenient new trick to effect same, which I’ve added as an addendum to the post because there are a few other things I wanted to clarify anyway.

  2. Also, about being disappointed with not finding ‘pomelo fragrance’ when eating che` buoi: I originally had the same reaction when I first tried the dish – but then was corrected that it was the texture, not the flavor that was the essence of the dish. The pith doesn’t have much flavor anyway, and no other part of the pomelo is employed in general. So, that’s that. The thing is that so many shops make it wrong and destroy the texture of the pith or just not give you much pith (compared to mung bean) at all. That’s the tricky part.

    Though I have to say this creative version fixes it all. Amazing.

  3. Kim-Son says:

    This is cruel. I’m starving, and looking at this just makes me more hungry. So yummy-looking…

    • Thanks, Kim-Son! Get your all-dessert dinner while you can before you come out here and have to eat responsibly again!

  4. Hello, for this recipe, did you separate pith from peel, or keep them together? Thanks!

    • Hello, for this recipe, did you separate pith from peel, or keep them together? Thanks
      Just re-read the recipe, you peeled it! Sorry for the silly question! I can’t wait to try this dish as I have only just recently eaten a pomelo!

    • Wow! I guess pomelo really impressed you, huh? Thank you for visiting and commenting. Please let us know how your pomelo pudding turns out.

  5. Oi, Oanh va Dang oi,
    What a great success! I just tried this way to cook che buoi for Tet in LON. Yum. I especially love the ‘menthol’ flavour for the the pomelo pith.

    I used Thai palm sugar hence did not add water while making the pomelo pith candies.

    Will share with you the pix too.

    Lovely, thanks much for sharing this know-how, OD nha.

  6. Oanh oi,
    How did you make the pith and peel look so orangy like that?
    I tried twice and the candied pith look so soggy. Maybe I used palm sugar. Hmmm…

    • I’m not sure Xuan – maybe when you added the sugar you also added too much water? Even for one pomelo’s worth of pith, we were adding water drop by drop and tossing until the sugar was gone and that’s it. Very little water. And then we dried them overnight too to get rid of what little water we added in. Of course in the finals step you do boil them again and they soak up alot of water then and become sweet little sponges of pomelo flavor.

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