This recipe is inspired by my grandma’s purple yam dessert. I don’t often eat dessert, but if I must have one, this is always my go-to dish. I remember as a kid, whenever I came to visit my grandparents, my grandma always gave me purple yam dessert. Needless to say, it’s on top of my favorite desserts list (when it comes to food, I find it hard to just pick a favorite dish :D).
Purple yam dessert originates from Hue, ancient capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945 under the Nguyen dynasty. You may by now notice that my last name is Nguyen but no I don’t come from a royal bloodline, much to my dreamy 8 year-old self’s disappointment. I always find the difference with last name between Western and Eastern cultures interesting. In Western culture, the last name is different from one family to another and if two people have the same last name, often time it’s because they’re related. Whereas in Eastern culture, lots of people have the same last name and they’re not related at all even if you try to trace back the family line to their ancestors. This widespread common last name phenomenal leads to some funny (and not funny) confusion about who is who as occasionally 2 or more persons can have the same last name, first and middle name. In France, I once had a colleague with the same last name as mine and at first meeting people always ask me: “Are you related?” which always leads to a fun discussion about how many Nguyen there are. So next time you meet two Vietnamese with the same last name, just assume they’re not related ;). Now, let’s get back to our sweet dessert.
As I was saying the purple yam dessert comes from Hue. My grandma was born and raised there, so no wonder she made such wonderful dessert. The purple yam dessert is one variation of che, a Vietnamese sweet dessert which is made from all kinds of vegetables, fruits, beans and even seeds. Depends on the ingredients, che can have the consistency of soup, honey or even pudding. The purple yam dessert has the thick consistency of pudding and takes the shape of the mold when it’s cooled down.
It’s the same for this purple sweet potato dessert. It may look like your pumpkin soup at first, albeit a bit thicker, but when it has time to cool down, it becomes creamy thick and goes so well with the coconut milk garnish.
The dessert is quite simple with few ingredients. There won’t be much cooking time either as the sweet potatoes don't take long to be cooked. The dish is built in layers: you get a thick layer of creamy seductive purple sweet potato and then condensed sweet and salty coconut milk as garnish. To finish off the dessert, you can sprinkle on roasted sesame seeds or just stir tapioca pearls in coconut milk before garnishing.
The sweet potato dessert has a creamy texture from sweet potato and coconut milk. Take advantage of the natural sweetness of purple sweet potato and you don’t even need to add sugar. The coconut milk has a consistency of ganache because of kudzu root starch (hello secret ingredient!). It should taste salty sweet. Have you ever had a dessert so sweet that the aftertaste just stuck to the root of your tongue and can’t be washed away with water? Avoid that by adding a little bit of salt when you make this coconut milk garnish. Coconut milk for che must not taste too sweet but a bit salty to provide contrast to the main component. This dessert can be enjoyed in winter as well as summer. I will explain how you can alter the taste just by adding 1 component. Now without any further delay, let’s get to our recipe!
Ingredients: (4 servings)
- 430 gr purple sweet potatoes
- 250 ml coconut milk
- 2 tblspoons of white sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 tblspoon of kudzu root starch (or 1 ½ tblspoons of corn starch/tapioca powder)
Optional ingredients: roasted sesame seeds or tapioca pearls which you can find at Asian stores
Peel and wash the sweet potatoes then steam them for 15 minutes or until cooked through. You can steam the sweet potatoes and peel them after. I find it a bit messy so I prefer to peel them first. To test if the sweet potatoes are cooked, you can thrust a chopstick through them. If the chopstick comes through easily, it means they’re ready for the next step.
In a blender, pour in 100 ml coconut milk and add the cooked sweet potatoes. Blend well until you obtain a thick creamy mixture. Transfer it into a pot and stir constantly on medium – low heat for 5 minutes.
Pour the mixture into small serving bowls or molds. Leave them to cool down in room temperature then serve with coconut milk or keep them in the fridge for up to 3 days.
To make the coconut milk garnish, put the rest of it in a pot, add 150 ml of water, 1 pinch of salt and 2 tblspoons of sugar to stir on medium – high heat until boiling. When it starts boiling, reduce the heat to medium and keep stirring until the sugar completely dissolves.
At the same time use 50 ml of water to dissolve 1 tblspoon of kudzu root starch or corn starch/tapioca powder. Gently pour this milky mixture into the coconut milk and stir. The heat will thicken the starch and that’s why you need to stir well to distribute the starch evenly. Now the work is done, take the coconut milk off the heat.
To serve the dessert in cold weather, garnish the warm coconut milk on top of the cooled down sweet potato purée, sprinkle on roasted sesame seeds and enjoy when it’s still warm. It is quite hearty and a small portion can keep you full for a long time.
In summer, you can still eat the sweet potatoes dessert with coconut milk. However we will make it fresher by keeping the small bowls/molds into the fridge to enjoy at leisure, you can keep the coconut milk in the fridge too or just make it before you need to serve the dish. When it’s time to serve, take the sweet potato purée out the bowl and put it in a big glass. Next add coconut milk then a generous amount of grated ice. You may want to substitute the roasted sesame seeds for tapioca pearls as sesame seeds are better served with warm desserts. To eat this layered dessert, use a spoon to mix all the components together and smash the thick purée until everything is well mixed. Your spoonful should contain all the tastes from sweet potato to coconut milk and fresh grated ice. In summer the dessert is made so that it’s less sweet but if you prefer a sweeter version, you can adjust the amount of water in the purée or add sugar to your taste.
Enjoy the week-end!
Cover photo: Zazulete Ynn Anuca Romanta Ion
A melting pot experience, in more than one way. Welcome to our Epicurean adventure!