The other night I had a monster craving for some of my mom’s good ol’ chè bắp. Of all of the sticky rice and coconut milk desserts in the Vietnamese dessert repertoire, I think this corn rendition has to be my favorite. You can serve it cold, but nothing beats having a nice warm bowl of this sweet and satisfying dessert on a cool night. It requires a few relatively exotic ingredients, but they all keep very well so you can stock up for the rainy day when you just might crave a bowl of chè.
NomCat Tips for the Ingredients:
1. The Sticky rice (aka glutinous rice or gạo nếp): Ever had sticky rice and mango at your local Thai restaurant? That’s the kind we need. You cannot substitute long-grain jasmine rice or even the Japanese round variety used for sushi. It just won’t be the same (in fact, I don’t recommend even attempting to make chè with those types of rice!) Glutinous rice contains high amounts of a particular type of starch that gives it an incredibly sticky texture when cooked. The bag I used (Three Ladies Brand) refers to it as gạo nếp thơm, fragrant sticky rice. You should be able to find manageable 5lb bags, unlike jasmine rice which is usually sold in massive 25lb sacks. Store unused rice the way you store flour or other grains – in an airtight container to prevent weevil infestations (not a pretty sight).
2. The Coconut Milk (nước dừa): One potentially confusing tidbit – nước dừa in Vietnamese can refer to both the creamy white coconut milk (again, think sticky rice and mango) and the clear, young coconut water (like ONE or Zico). In this case, we need the former, which conveniently comes in cans or cardboard tetrapaks and can be stored at room temperature in your pantry. Please note that I have not tried using the new coconut milk from Silk (the makers of soymilk and almond milk), but I have a feeling you won’t get the same flavor or consistency with it.
1/2 cup sticky rice (uncooked)
2 cups water
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 cup sweet corn kernels *
3 teaspoons sugar
Pinch of salt
Optional: Pandan (lá dứa) leaves or extract
* I used frozen corn, but you could also use fresh corn shaved off the cob or 1 drained can of corn
Rinse the rice in cold water a few times. Add to a small saucepan and pour in the water. Sprinkle in a tiny pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and let it simmer uncovered for 5-6 minutes. Stir frequently to avoid burning.
In the meantime, prepare your corn. If using frozen corn like I did, you’ll want to rinse the kernels under cool water to let them thaw a bit. Fresh corn will need to be shaved off the cob, and canned corn will need to be opened and drained. At this point, you have a few options. You could leave the kernels whole like I did in the photo, or you can coarsely chop the kernels to break them up. You can also use the side of a large flat blade to flatten or squish the kernels. Your choice here will not really affect the taste of your final product, but it’s up to you how texturally congruous (or not) you like your desserts.
Now that your rice is well on its way to becoming a delicious dessert, it’s time to add the coconut milk. This step will impart fragrance and flavor during the final cooking stages of the rice. If you are using pandan (lá dứa), this is the time to add it. Cook for about 5 more minutes so that the rice absorbs the liquid. Stir in your corn and sugar. Continue cooking for a few more minutes (just 1-2 minutes if using frozen or canned, a little longer for fresh), adding coconut milk as needed to achieve the right consistency.
Serve warm and refrigerate any leftovers (which you can then eat cold straight out of the fridge or warmed by microwave). This recipe serves 4.
The aroma of the sticky rice and coconut milk boiling in the kitchen immediately makes me feel nostalgic and a teeny bit homesick. Memories aside, this is also just a darn good dessert and the warm, sticky texture always leaves me feeling full and satisfied! Many thanks to my mom for sharing her recipe.