Vietnamese Dessert with Lotus Seeds and Longans: Chè Sen Nhãn
According to the Lunar calendar, Tết (Vietnamese New Year) falls on January 30th, 2014. It's customary to serve chè (typical Vietnamese dessert) to offer to ancestors during prayers. Today's dessert recipe is chè sen nhãn. It's made from dried lotus seeds and dried longans, which are perfect for the winter season.
I prepared a syrup sweetened with Chinese rock sugar. It can be thickened with tapioca starch but the quality of the dried lotus seeds and longans I used was so amazing, it was unnecessary. I feel very blessed because I always have family and friends bringing me delicious, exotic ingredients from their travels to Vietnam. I received lotus seeds threaded as necklaces and the longans had been sun-dried and unsweetened. They came out just perfect: perky and plump, with a hint of natural sweetness. I could have eaten bowls and bowls of this lovely chè.
Yields: 10 servings1 (8-ounce) "necklace" dried lotus seeds
8 ounces dried longans, unsweetened
2 cups clementine juice (or orange juice), freshly squeezed (without pulp)
4 large chunks Chinese rock sugar (or 6 ounces granulated sugar), to taste
Rinse the lotus seeds. Place them in a saucepan, fill with water, then bring to a boil. Cook on medium-low for 1 hour. Check doneness; they should be soft when gently pressed and crushed between your thumb and index finger. Drain and set them aside.
Blanch (dip for a minute in boiling water then transfer to an ice bath) the dried longans to ensure they're clean. Rinse with lukewarm water and set aside.
Drain the water. Place the dried longans in a saucepan. Add about 1½ quarts water. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook at a bare simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes (Note: the longer you cook the liquid, the more intense the longan flavor gets). Add sugar and cook until fully dissolved. Add the lotus seeds. Remove from the stove and allow the syrup to infuse for about 15 minutes.
Serve warm or chilled (I prefer it warm ).
You can store the syrup, lotus and longans for up to 2 days (3 days at the most) in the refrigerator.
When selecting lotus, go for the white and skinned ones so they're midly sweet with a starchy texture.
You can find all the ingredients in any Asian supermarket.
For a better aesthetic, you could stuff the longans with the lotus seeds; I didn't.January 17, 2014.