Saturday, September 25, 2010

Che Bap: Vietnamese Corn Rice Pudding

Although pho and banh mi have both garnered somewhat mainstream success with Western cultures and palates and certain Vietnamese influences can be found in some of the best restaurants in the world (I recently had that chao tom and it was amazing), che has undeservedly gone under the radar.
The variety of che is fairly diverse, but a couple common themes shared by some of the more popular ches are the use of sweet sticky rice and a sweet and salty coconut milk sauce.  With che thai being my all time favorite che, che bap is definitely in my top 5.  As corn season recently drew to an end, I thought I'd take advantage of the sweet corn while it lasted and make some che bap.
Instead of letting the harvested ears go to waste, I simmered them in water and used that water to cook the rice.  This added another layer of corn flavor to the che.  The resulting che pretty much tasted like sweet rice with corn and coconut milk: clean and straightforward. Corn and coconut seem to have a natural affinity for each other, and I'm not sure if any other cuisines utilize this combination.  Chef Curtis Duffy of Avenues recently created a dish of sweet corn soup with coconut, and I can't help but wonder if che bap served as an inspiration for it.
Corn and coconut's affinity for each other lead me to experiment with making uchepos topped with Vietnamese coconut milk sauce.  Aside from the lack of sweet rice, they turned out tasting a lot like che bap.  The next time I make uchepos, I’ll stuff them with young coconut meat rather than topping them with coconut milk sauce as I found the sauce to be a little too rich and heavy for the delicate uchepos.
Coconut milk sauce:
  1. 1 cup coconut milk + 1 Tbps sugar + salt to taste + medium heat => low simmer
  2. 1 Tbsp water + 1 Tbsp cornstarch (slurry) => stir until sauce thickens
Che bap:
  1. 3 cups corn-infused water + high heat => boil
  2. 1/4 cup rinsed sweet rice
  3. 5 minutes => stir occasionally
  4. 1/3 cup coconut milk + 5 Tbsp sugar + 1/2 tsp salt => lower to simmer
  5. 450 grams corn kernels (3-5 ears)
  6. 5 minutes
  7. 1/2 tsp vanilla extract => serve warm or cold topped with coconut milk sauce

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