These delicate yellow bricks, born humble, accidentally made their way up to the royal lips one day in the Qing Dynasty a hundred years ago.
Given the very specific timing, I am regrettably unable to start my story with our familiar "Once upon a time", but I can assure you that this story has our usual happy ending. So, one evening, Empress Dowager Ci Xi was enjoying some peace and quiet when suddenly loud, repeated sounds of the gong hit in outside the thick walls of the palace. The disturbance brought a frown to Ci Xi's thin, moon-shaped brows, so before questioned, her trusted servant quickly explained that it was the sound made by a peasant selling treats. Ci Xi then summoned the peasant, who frantically offered her a bite of the little mung bean bricks he made for a living. Just one bite, Ci Xi was utterly impressed and made the peasant the dessert chef of the Imperial Kitchen. These delicate yellow bricks since then became Ci Xi's particular favourite.
Now, you may be wondering- what is so magical about this little mung bean brick that managed to please the woman who was the most difficult to please?! These yellow bricks are sweet and refreshing. Delicate and light, but unlike jellies, there is this fine graininess that gives the dessert a bit of body and form this smooth, silky texture that just melts and silently slips away like sand when pressed against your tongue.
Now I understand why these adorable bricks are not widely available- it takes so so sooooo much time to get them to the table! Soaking the beans requires 4 hours, simmering the beans requires almost an hour, and freezing the bricks requires another hour! BUT, the actual cooking time that requires you to actively work in the kitchen is in fact, quite little! I think around 30 minutes will do. So, have fun turning your kitchen imperial!
Yellow Mung Bean Bricks 豌豆黃
- 250g shell green beans 去皮綠豆
- 4 cups of water (equivalent to 1L of water) and more
- 125g sugar
- 5g of agar-agar 大菜, rinsed and cut into shreds with a pair of scissors
1. Place the beans in a large bowl. Gently rinse them with water and drain for 2-3 times, like you're rinsing rice. Then fill in the bowl with water until it hits just an inch above the beans. Soak the beans for 4 hours or overnight in the fridge, they will puff up when it's done.
2. In a saucepan, pour in 1L of water and throw in the already-soaked beans. Bring this to boil over high heat, and once it starts boiling, turn down the fire and let the yellow bean soup slowly simmer its way over low heat for at least 45 minutes.
3. When the yellow beans are soft and half-dissolved, mix and stir in the sugar and let it bubble its way for another 5 minutes.
4. Switch off the heat and let the soup cool down a bit.
5. Blend the yellow bean soup until it is smooth.
6. Sieve the blended yellow bean soup to your wok.
7. Get the smallest saucepan you have and boil 1/4 cup of water. Throw in the agar-agar to boil until it is dissolved completely.
8. Now, back to the wok. Turn the heat to low fire, and pour the agar-agar water into the yellow bean soup. Keep frying the mixture to make sure it won't stick to the wok. Be patient, fry until the the yellow bean soup has reduced and thickened to a point when you lift your turner and gently drop a small amount back into the mixture, it slowly merges back in but leaving a trace.
9. Turn off the heat and pour the thick mixture into a wide-surface tray. Let it cool down a bit, cover it with a damp tea towel and put it in the fridge for at least an hour (3-4 hours for maximum results) before serving.
10. Cut them into whatever shape you like. We usually cut them into cubes or diamonds.