Hot Grass Jelly
Hot Grass Jelly 燒仙草 is a dessert I came around to much later than my love affairs with charismatic megafauna like Mango Shaved Ice and Bubble Tea. I was never in Taiwan in the winter months because of school and work schedules, and it’s relatively hard to find in the US (unless you have a Meet Fresh near you, the Boston location finally opened).
When my mom came to visit me, I immediately made the more polyhedral form of this dessert, where you set Grass Jelly Tea into a harder form with gelatin or agar-agar. This form is known as xian cao dong 仙草凍 (dong 凍 means both frozen and aspic). It’s the style most frequently encountered in bubble tea and ice shops. She seemed to think it was good but asked (more than once) when I would be developing my hot grass jelly recipe 燒仙草. So finally, mom, here it is. It’s the ultimate old fashioned flavor 古早味, especially when served with fen yuan (the original name for boba pearls), red bean, job’s tears, and nuts (in this case I had pecans, but go roasted peanuts to be really trad).
Once you make the grass jelly tea, which keeps in the fridge for a week or more, you can sip it as a sweetened tea, set it into the bouncy 凍 version, or cook it with a little starch to thicken it into this hot soupy tangle of an herbal dessert, Hot Grass Jelly 燒仙草. You can eat it plain with toasted nuts, or add your favorite dessert ingredients, like sticky tang yuan from the frozen section at the grocery store or a bit of boiled taro root.
Hot Grass Jelly
Serves: 10, keep in fridge for up to a week.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
600 g grass jelly tea 30 g tapioca or corn starch 80 g water 30 g rock sugar (or to taste) roasted peanuts or walnuts boba pearls or tangyuan (available in ready to boil forms in most Chinese grocery stores) adzuki or mung beans, precooked and sweetened Job's tears, an ancient grain that is easy to boil boiled taro root or sweet potato chunks
Make grass jelly tea according to our instructions here. I like to make a big batch and store it in the fridge for a week, enjoying it as hot tea, cubed jelly, and in this hot stewed form. Put the grass jelly in a large saucepan. Add the rock sugar, and simmer (the smallest bubbles) until the sugar is dissolved. I recommend adding the sugar in two or three batches, to taste for sweetness. Depending on what you will be adding to the dessert, you may hold back on some of the sweetness. For example, store bought boba pearls are often already a bit sweet. Once the sugar is dissolvied, make a starch slurry by mixing the starch with 80g of water. Slowly drizzle the slurry into the simmering grass jelly tea (while it's still mixed, don't let it settle). Stir the entire time. Keep stirring and lower the heat, and you will feel the jelly start to thicken. Cook for a minute or two more until the grass jelly coats the spoon. It will continue to thicken as it cools. If your toppings are already hot, you can add them into the bowl directly (save the nuts for garnish), and ladle some of the hot grass jelly mixture on top. If the toppings are room temperature or cool, you can add them into the saucepan and heat in the liquid for a bit, then ladle out the mixture into a bowl. Top with chopped nuts if you're using, and serve with a Chinese soup spoon. Keep any leftovers covered in the fridge. Reheat in a saucepan, adding a bit of water if needed (remember it may seem very thick when cold, but will thin out when heated)
Recipe by: Lisa Cheng Smith
Image Credit: Lisa Cheng Smith