Spring has finally arrived! In order to celebrate the return of warmth and the coming sweaty days, I decided to share with you an original Hong Kong summer dessert/drink - Iced Red Bean 紅豆冰 (with coconut milk). This is a drink that people usually don't make at home so you're in for a treat (no pun intended)! So if it's not made at home, then where do Hong Kongers go to get their Iced Red Bean?
Iced Red Bean was first created in a type of restaurants in Hong Kong known as Bing Sutt (冰室). The direct translation of the term is "ice room". Why "ice room" you may ask? Well, Hong Kong's climate is generally quite warm with summers that could be unbearable. Bing Sutts are places where people can pop in and out to get a cool drink in the 90°F summers (plus humidity)! So how do you know if you've walked into a Bing Sutt? Small tile floors, hanging fans, folding chairs, booth seatings are the characteristics of a typical Bing Sutt decor. Bing Sutts gained popularity in the 50's and 60's because they provided the working-class localized western meals at affordable prices, and they are mostly located in residential areas and neighborhoods making Bing Sutts great places for people of all social status to gather and to cool off! Bing Sutt eventually started serving food outside of their localized western menus to stay competitive with Cha Chaan Tengs (which I consider as the next generation of Bing Sutts). If you happen to pass by a Bing Sutt while visiting Hong Kong, I highly recommend that you pop in for a tea or coffee as there're not too many Bing Sutts left in the "kong" as real estate prices soar making mom-and-pop shops to fold one after another.
A traditional Ice Red Bean is made with three things: sweetened and cooked red beans, evaporated milk, and crushed ice. If you're not familiar with Asian or Chinese desserts, red or green beans are often made into sweets in various forms. Traditional Chinese pastries often use red bean paste as fillings, or an ABC (Air Batu Campur), which is a Malaysian dessert that is very popular in Southeast Asia, uses sweetened red beans on top of shaved ice. (Bee over at Rasa Malaysia has a Ice Kacang/ABC recipe for you if you're interested.) And you might also be wondering why evaporated milk? Evaporated milk is widely used in many Hong Kong style drinks and dessert. I think mainly it's because it's got a longer shelf life than regular milk, and it adds a certain flavor to tea and coffee. It could also because dairy is not consumed in most Hong Konger's daily diet (other than eggs), so regular milk is not very popular.
Besides the three key ingredients, I also added coconut milk which I was very happy with. The trickiest part of this whole operation is to get the ice crashed right. Even thought, I wasn't entirely happy with the consistency of the crushed ice my food processor was producing, I was happy that it was at least getting the job done (if that means processing the ice in batches, and scoop out any big stubborn pieces along the way). WELL. I guess that's why Ice Red Bean isn't usually made at home! It's easier for Hong Kongers to walk down the street from their apartments to get one rather than doing all the mumble jumble which no one ever has the time to.
So there you go. Treat yourself like a Hong Kong local on a hot summer day! (Want it to be more awesome? Top it with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream!)
Iced Red Bean with Coconut Milk (椰汁紅豆冰)
Prep time: 2 hrs 15 mins Cook time: 5 mins Total time: 2 hrs 20 mins
Serves: 4, 12oz-glass
- ¾ cup red beans, raw
- ½ cup plus 4 tbsp granulated sugar
- ¾ water
- 4 cups finely crushed ice (almost close to shaved ice)
- 1½ cup coconut milk
- 1½ cup evaporated milk
- Cook raw red beans for an hour and a half until they become soft, and skin has started to fall apart from the beans. Keep enough water in the pot for at least 1" standing water on top for the entire duration of cooking the beans.*
- Drain, and return beans back to the pot. Add ¾ cup of water plus granulated sugar. Let sugar melt on very low heat for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Then pour beans on a baking sheet to cool completely, then stick the baking sheet in the freezer until the beans are chilled.**
- Mix coconut milk and evaporated milk together. Set aside.
- Using a food processor or blender, finely crush the ice.
- To assemble, fill ⅔ of the glass with chilled red beans, ⅓ of the glass with crushed ice, fill the glass with the milk mixture.
- (Top it with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream!)
You may choose to soak the beans overnight, that would cut down on cooking time.
You may choose to pour cooked beans into a big mixing bowl, and let it sit in the fridge overnight.