Dessert is not a common item in most Asian cuisines. Asians rarely eat a cake, ice cream, brownie, or pie after a meal. The most commonly eaten "sweet stuff" are fruits (at least in my home country).
However, there is a class of sweet stuff that can be considered as dessert and these are literally called "sugar/sweet water" (糖水). Some of the more commonly consumed "sugar water" are made out of red beans, green beans, black glutinous rice, wheat, or coconut, etc. Ingredients that you will not normally associate with dessert in the western world.
Traditionally, these ingredients are thought to have health benefits, which is why they are used in "sugar water". I think that the western and eastern world view their "dessert" differently. The western world emphasizes on taste, texture, and aesthetic. Not to say the Eastern "desserts" do not take these into the account. However, there is an additional level of "health benefits" that I think the Western "dessert" emphasizes less.
Ok, enough philosophy.
The "sugar water" that I made the other day has four main ingredients
a) lotus seed - this is the seed from the Lotus plant. It is high in protein, low in fat, and nutritious.
|Dried lotus seed on the left, cooked lotus seed on the right and the green germ that needs to be removed|
b) white fungus -This is a kind of fungus that, as the name suggest, is yellowish white. This kind of fungus is used mainly in "dessert soup" as oppose to its cousin the "blank fungus" (written about it earlier) that is mostly found in savory dishes. As in most chinese "herbal" ingredients, I have 5 words to say about the white fungus - "It is good for you"
|Dry white fungus that is off yellowish|
c) dried longan - longan (pronounced as long aaaan) is one of my favorite fruit because it is very sweet which is why fresh longans are expensive. Longans are dried to to preserve the fruit and are commonly used as the basic flavor of sweet soup.
|Fresh logan (source: wikipedia)|
d) dried red dates - another commonly used ingredient in chinese "sweet soup".
(I just learned that red dates are also called "Jujube", which is one of the currently trendy "health" supplements in drinks/smooties)
|Dried red dates (source: wikipedia)|
A few additional notes when you buy the ingredients:
1) If you buy whole lotus seed, make sure to cook it for 10 minutes to soften it and then remove the germ of the seed. This germ is one of the bitterest thing you will ever taste.
2) The white fungus smells funky right off the bag (well, it is fungus) but the smell will mellowed out as you cook
3) Be sure to buy red dates that have been pitted
4) Be sure to wash the lotus seed, white fungus, red dates and longan many rounds
Finally, after all these descriptions, this is how you make it
1) Lotus seed - half a bowl
2) white fungus - two hands full
3) red dates - a handful
4) Longan - a handful
Cooking instructions. So simple....
1) Put everything in the pot, add a few cups of water and cook for 1 hour.
2) Add sugar to sweeten.