Chè trôi nước is a delightful Vietnamese dessert of glutinous rice balls filled mung bean served in a warm ginger syrup with coconut sauce and toasted sesame seeds.
Besides thit kho, another popular dish that we make to celebrate Tet (Lunar New Year) is chè trôi nước, or Vietnamese glutinous rice balls with ginger syrup. Chè trôi nước translates to the rice balls floating up the the surface when cooked. These glutinous rice balls are filled with mung bean that oozes out from their light, chewy skin. They’re served with warm ginger syrup, drizzle of coconut sauce, and sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.
- Flour: for this recipe, make sure you get glutinous rice flour as well as regular rice flour. They both play a role in making the skin of the rice balls. They are inexpensive regular shelf items at Asian grocery stores.
- Palm sugar: palm sugar is very popular in Vietnamese cooking. It contains less glucose and has a lower glycemic index compared to regular sugar. If you can’t find palm sugar, you can also substitute with coconut sugar, rock sugar, or light brown sugar.
- Coconut cream: for this recipe use coconut cream, not coconut milk. The flavor you get from coconut cream is much richer. My favorite brands are Savoy and Aroy-d.
How to make the ginger syrup
The ginger syrup is a simple mixture of palm sugar and water flavored with ginger. Simply cook everything together over med-high heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove it from heat and let the ginger steep in the syrup for an hour. If you love ginger, steep it longer or double the amount of ginger in the recipe.
How to make the mung bean filling
You’ll need to soak the mung beans for 6 hours or overnight. Once they’re softened, it will be easier to steam. The secret to a delicious filling is the sauteed pieces of shallot that add a savory note to the mung bean. Everything gets blended together in a food processor to create a smooth filling. You should get about half a cup of filling. I used a tablespoon to measure out the mung bean and roll them into little balls. You can make the filling a day ahead and leave them in the fridge covered with plastic wrap to save time.
Tips for making the dough
The skin of these rice balls consists mainly of glutinous rice flour with a little bit of rice flour added. Rice flour is ground from long- or medium-grain rice while glutinous rice flour is ground from sweet rice or sticky rice. Glutinous rice has a much higher starch content compared to other rice, making it perfect for dumplings and noodles.
Glutinous rice flour by itself is extremely sticky and difficult to work with. My mom taught me the trick of adding a little rice flour to make it easier to handle. The key to getting the perfect dough is getting it to have the right amount of moisture. The dough can’t be too wet or it won’t hold its shape. It can’t be too dry either or it will crack. Add a little more flour if it’s too wet or add a little more water if it’s too dry, about half a tablespoon at a time. Once the dough is formed, cover it with a damp cloth and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Tips for shaping the balls
Roll the dough into a rope about 1 ½ inches thick. cut the dough into 1 inch segments. For accuracy, you can also cut each piece and weigh them. Each piece should weigh about 1 ounce and you should have eight pieces total.
Roll a piece of dough into a ball, then press the edges with your fingertips to form a 3-inch round with a dime-size belly of thicker dough in the middle. Center the mung bean filling in the dough, then gather the sides around it to enclose. Pinch the seams shut and gently roll into a smooth ball. Unlike normal dough, this type of dough doesn’t stretch much and cracks easily. If cracks or holes appear, simply wet the broken part with a little bit of water then rub gently to reseal. They don’t have to look perfect. My kids love playing with dough so I enlist their help with shaping these balls.
How long to cook the balls
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Lower the heat to medium and simmer the rice balls for 8-10 minutes until they float to the top. The skin should be translucent. If you’re eating them right away, drain them with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the pan with ginger syrup.
What to do with uncooked rice balls
The rice balls can be frozen on a baking sheet until firm, then stored in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 month. You can cook them directly from the freezer.
What to do with leftover chè trôi nước
Chè trôi nước is best eaten the same day! I guarantee you won’t have any leftovers. However, if you made a big batch, store the leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 48 hours. Once it’s been in the fridge, the skin will harden considerably. When ready to serve, reheat chè trôi nước in the microwave
Chè trôi nước is the classic Vietnamese dessert for Tet or any time of the year. When you take a bite, you first taste the subtly chewy skin followed by the soft mung bean center. Everything comes together with the warm ginger syrup, sweetened coconut sauce, and toasted sesame seeds. It’s a delightful treat that will warm up everyone from the kids to grandparents.
Glutinous rice balls in ginger syrup
Mung bean filling
- ½ cup dried split mung beans, soaked for 6 hours or overnight
- 2 tbsps coconut cream
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 tbsps granulated sugar
- 2 tbsps shallot, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 inch knob of ginger, thinly sliced into matchsticks
- 4 oz palm sugar
- 1 ½ cups water
- 1 cup glutinous flour, plus more as needed
- 2 tbsps rice flour
- 1 cup warm water, 70 degrees F, plus more as needed
- ½ cup coconut cream
- 2 tbsps sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds for serving
- To make the ginger syrup, combine the water, sugar, and ginger in a large saucepan and cook on medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat. Put a lid on the pan and let it steep for 1 hour.
- Wash and drain the pre-soaked mung bean. Put the mung bean in a steamer and steam for 15 minutes or until mung bean is soft. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, add the peanut oil and shallot. Let the shallot cook until fragrant and becomes golden brown, about 8 minutes.
- To make the filling, add steamed mung bean, shallot, coconut cream, sugar, and salt in a food processor and process until the mixture forms a smooth mass. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes before rolling them.
- Using a measuring tablespoon, scoop and pack a flat spoonful of the mung bean mixture, then push it out of the spoon onto a rimmed baking sheet using your fingertip. Repeat with the remaining mixture and you should get 8 pieces. Press and gently roll each spoonful into a ball. Cover the filling in plastic wrap and leave them in the fridge until ready to use.
- To make the dough, sift the two flours together. Place the flours in a medium bowl and set the bowl on a damp kitchen towel so it won’t move around. Make a well in the center and add the warm water while continuously stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon.
- Continue stirring until the liquid is incorporated and the mixture is firm and comes away from the bowl. You should get a soft but non-sticky dough. Cover with a damp towel and let it rest for 20 minutes.
- Working on a surface dusted with rice flour, roll the dough into a rope about 1 ½ inches thick and cut the dough into segments about 1 inch wide. Each piece should weigh about 1 ounce.
- Roll each piece of dough into a ball, then press the edges with your fingertips to form a 3-inch round disc with a dime-size belly of thicker dough in the middle.
- Place the mung bean filling into the middle and draw the sides of the dough up to enclose it. Roll it gently between your palms to make a smooth ball. Place the rice balls on a nonstick baking tray.
- To cook the rice balls, fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the rice balls and gently stir to prevent sticking at the bottom of the pot. Simmer for 8-10 minutes, until the skin is almost translucent.
- Use a slotted spoon to transfer the rice balls into saucepan with the ginger syrup. Simmer them in the ginger syrup for another 5 minutes.
- While the rice balls are simmering in the ginger syrup, make the coconut sauce. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the coconut cream, sugar, and salt. Stir to combine and cook until the mixture starts to bubble. Remove from heat.
- Divide the rice balls and ginger syrup among bowls. Top with coconut sauce, toasted sesame seeds, and serve hot.