How to make vietnamese 3 color bean dessert

Vietnamese cuisine has many desserts but my favorite one to eat all year round is che ba mau. My mom never could make che ba mau, so I used to eat them at various Vietnamese restaurants, cafes, and dessert places in LA. My absolute favorite place to get it is this little food place called Che Hien Khanh in Rosemead . I have no idea what it is but theirs is absolutely the best. If you’re ever in the LA area, you gotta go check them out. Given I can’t go there nowadays especially in the middle of a pandemic, I thought I would make it for myself at home.

What is che ba mau?

Che is the word for any kind of sweet Vietnamese drink, pudding, or soup. The most well known Vietnamese dessert (or at least to my knowledge) is che ba mau. Che Ba Mau is a dessert consisting of 4 components: a layer of red beans, a layer of mung beans, pandan jelly, and coconut sauce. All of that is then topped with crushed ice. It is often served in a tall glass, so you can see each layer before you dig in. I usually mix all the layers together before eating. Even though these 4 components are what you usually find in a traditional che ba mau, there is definitely wiggle room for adjustments. When I was little, I used to substitute red beans for white beans sometimes. I also used to add red chestnut balls because I liked the texture contrast.

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Ingredients, Substitutions & Adjustments

  • Adzuki beans – These red beans are one of my favorite dessert ingredients of all time. Combined with sugar, they create this tasty sweet bean dessert. The combination of adzuki beans and sugar create for a yummy layer to this dessert. A good substitute to adzuki beans is red kidney beans. Make sure to adjust how you prepare kidney beans if you decide to use them because they are bigger than adzuki beans.
  • Mung beans – The combination of mung beans and sugar create for a second yummy layer to this dessert. They are prepared differently than adzuki beans because mung beans are crushed then mixed with sugar to create this paste. I like to buy peeled mung beans for this recipe because it is easier to work with.
  • Agar agar powder – Agar agar powder is one of the best discoveries I’ve made this week. Agar agar is essentially vegetarian gelatin. Instead of animal collagen, agar agar is derived from seaweed. Unfortunately, agar agar is hard to find because it can mostly be found at Asian grocery stores or Amazon. If you can’t find agar agar, substitute with gelatin.
  • Pandan flavor – Pandan is a tropical plant in Southeast Asia that is used for flavoring both sweet and savory food. Because it’s hard to access pandan in the US, I like to use pandan paste as flavoring. Be careful with the paste because a little paste goes a long way. Here I only used 1/4 teaspoon and I got this vibrant green color.
  • Coconut milk & tapioca starch – A combination of coconut milk, tapioca starch, and sugar create coconut sauce which is the basis of a ton of Vietnamese desserts.
  • Granulated sugar – Granulated sugar is used to sweeten every layer of this dessert. Use as much or as little your sweet tooth desires.

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Making my che ba mau

Each layer will be made and stored separately, so this dessert does take some time to make, but it is worth it!

Adzuki Beans

Soak beans over night. The next day, drain the beans. Combine them with water in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for 45 minutes – 1 hour until they are soft and tender. Add sugar and mix. Set aside to cool.

Mung Bean Paste

Combine mung beans and water in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add sugar and mix. Blend using a blender or immersion blender until a thick paste forms. Set aside to cool.

Pandan Jelly

Bring water to a boil. Pour into a bowl with the agar agar powder. Add pandan flavor and sugar. Stir until well combined. Pour into a heat proof dish and cool to room temperature. Store in the fridge to let it set over night.

Coconut Sauce

Heat coconut milk until it starts to boil. Add sugar and tapioca starch. Simmer for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it cool to room temperature. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

Making che ba mau

Now it’s (finally) time to put together your dessert! Add a layer of mung bean paste to the bottom of a glass. You can use any size glass you want. Next add a layer of red beans and top that with some pandan jelly. Finish it off with crushed ice. Drizzle coconut sauce over the top and serve.

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Tips on how to make the perfect che ba mau

  1. Keep each component separate until you are ready to serve – The components of this dessert are typically stored separately until it is ready to be served. I am not exactly sure why. It might be because part of the experience of eating this dish is mixing everything together before you eat it.
  2. Che ba mau is best served cold – This dessert takes a long time to make, so when everything is finally done, you might be tempted to make one and dig in. (I mean I definitely did that this time.) But this dessert is best served cold. I would recommend letting everything cool in the fridge and then make yourself one.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree mung bean paste – I tried using a potato masher to crush my mung beans into a paste, but I couldn’t get a smooth consistency. There were still whole mung beans in my paste which I didn’t love. So I then decided to use an immersion blender to get it to the smooth consistency I was looking for. I found that an immersion blender works better in this case than a regular blender because you can puree the paste in the container you are cooking or storing it in. It also has less clean up.

Did you make this dish?

If you made this dish, I would love to see!

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About the Author: Thien Bao