Dessert is not my forte. I dislike baking and I never seem to be able to think of new ideas for desserts. That’s why I was so excited when I came up with this dessert and was even more psyched when it actually worked out well.
While cleaning up after a dinner I hosted last fall, I was blown away by the pineapple-tomato flavor combination (pineapple slices and grape tomatoes were used as plate decoration for a vegetarian course). The sweetness of the combo made me think of a dessert. And being from southern Vietnam, a dessert just isn’t complete without coconut milk.
So, the first idea for the dessert was to cook pineapple slices in coconut milk until soft, then serve them on clear tomato gel pieces with tía tô (perrilla) leaves. Tomato gel is made by filtering tomato puree to make clear tomato juice, which is then mixed with agar to make a gel. Here’s what tomato puree and the clear tomato juice look like:
This first version worked out ok, not great, for many reasons: the coconut milk flavor was quite strong and overpowered the pineapple; tía tô flavor didn’t go well with tomato and pineapple. Tía tô also makes the dessert taste confusing because it reminds people of savory dishes and doesn’t work well with sweet things. However, there were enough promises in the dish (I still liked the pineapple and tomato combination) that I decided to keep working on it.
For the next iteration, I tried to use rau om leaves with the leftover pineapple slices and tomato gel. It worked out much better due to the floral fragrance of rau om. The problem of the strong coconut milk flavor was still there, but that could be solved easily.
For the third iteration, I decided to keep the tomato gel, but did not steep tía tô leaves in the juice (steeping the herbs in the tomato juice didn’t do anything anyway), and cooked the pineapple slices only in sugar until soft. The coconut milk was mixed with maltodextrin to make it into a powder so we could sprinkle it on top of the dessert. This was to solve the problem of the coconut milk flavor taking over the dish. The dessert is served as clear tomato gel topped with a pineapple slice, which is then topped with a rau om leaf and sprinkles of coconut milk powder.
This dish has gotten better with each iteration and people seem to like it, especially the versions with rau om. Another tweak will be to figure out how to make clear tomato juice more efficiently (I had to triply filter the puree to get the juice to be that clear) to preserve more tomato flavor.
Between the 2nd and 3rd iterations, it occurred to me that the ingredients for this dish (pineapple, tomato, rau om) are among the core ingredients of canh chua (Vietnamese sour soup). Maybe in the next iteration, I can try to work tamarind into the dish. Then, as Lamp said, I should name this dish “canh chua ngot” (“sweet canh chua”). A ridiculous naming suggestion, as always.
But this dish does need a name and I am too uncreative to think of one. What do you think should be the name of this dish?