One of my most enduring childhood memories is of watching my bà nội, or grandmother, shaving corn – the clean, confident stroke of her knife, and the tumble of sweet, juicy kernels released from the cob. If we were lucky, she'd stir the kernels into a pot of coconut milk to make chè, a delectable Vietnamese pudding.
I can think of few better treats than chè on a summer afternoon. At once refreshing and comforting, these Vietnamese puddings or sweet soups often contain ingredients like tapioca, glutinous rice, beans, and fruit.
Several variations of corn chè (called chè bắp in the South and chè ngô in the North) exist, from those with sweet rice to yellow mung beans. This one marries juicy corn with the chewy texture of tapioca pearls and creamy coconut milk. If you can find pandan leaf at an Asian market, this adds a beautiful aroma, but the pudding is just as delicious without it. Whether you serve it warm or cold is up to you; I personally prefer eating it chilled with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.
Chè Bắp (Vietnamese Sweet Corn Pudding)
3 large ears corn, shucked
4 cups water
2 pandan leaves, tied together and knotted (optional)
1/4 cup small tapioca pearls
2 (14-ounce) cans coconut milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Stand each ear of corn up in a bowl and, holding it sturdy, run a sharp chef's knife down the length of the ear to shave off the kernels. Set the kernels aside.
Combine the corn cobs, pandan leaves (optional), and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place tapioca pearls in a small bowl, cover with cold water by 1/2 inch and let stand.
Remove corn cobs and pandan leaves from the pot and discard.
Add coconut milk, corn kernels, sugar, and a pinch of salt to the pot and stir to combine. Return to a boil and then simmer until corn is tender, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust sugar and salt, if desired.
Stir tapioca pearls into the pot and simmer for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat to cool. Can refrigerate for up to 2 days. If it gets too thick and gloppy, thin it with water.
Serve warm or cold in bowls or glasses. Garnish with sesame seeds just before serving.
Related: 10 Simple Meals Inspired by Vietnam
(Images: Emily Ho)