Mung beans is a perfect testament to the adage, still waters run deep. One glance and it may be the wallflower of the culinary world, pale, insipid and so small you hardly notice its presence. But it is in fact a most exciting ingredient in Asia, not least because it is the main ingredient in many wonderfully enticing desserts and sweets across Asia. The pretty jewelled loop choop of Thailand first made for royalty, mung bean candy which you’ll find in Vietnam and China, turned into fillings for all sorts of pastries and snacks in China, tau suan, a delicate soupy dessert here in Singapore, and even a delectably fragrant mung bean ice cream which I encountered in Hanoi. You’ll also find mung beans in rice dumplings and even mooncakes from certain regions of China. I love them all.
My most favourite pastry above all else is the traditional Chinese tau sar piah, and this too makes essential use of mung beans. Its literal translation is unpalatable — ‘bean sand cake’. But it is anything but. A snack of sweet mung bean filling encased in a thin crisp pastry shell, it is my idea of a little afternoon pick me up while I work away at the computer on my stories. It is a little sandy in texture, as the filling is a fascinating combination of crumbly, dry with a hint of ‘moistness’ which just about holds it together. A bite brings it crumbling into your mouth, and the flavour is a delicious light, sweet, beany, vanilla.
It is a signature confection in the culinary jewel of Penang, Malaysia, so famous for its to-die-for street food, and a city where the eating never stops. (I salivate just thinking about it.) And in Singapore, Balestier Road is aflush with old shops that still make their own tau sar piah in their old fashioned kitchens at the back of the shophouse.
They come in sweet and salty versions, and the recipe I have here is the sweet one, which I prefer. It’s best enjoyed with Chinese tea, as coffee tends to overwhelm its delicate flavour.
For this recipe, it’s best to have a digital weighing scale to get your weights just right. Made of two types of dough, the outer shell is layered. To get a more crumbly pastry, there is a method of folding and rolling it, much like making puff pastry. I’ve kept things simple in this recipe though, where you’ll just get 2 layers of pastry, but I’ll work on another post which will show you how to make more layers. It’s not as complicated as it seems, but it takes time to make. So I recommend waiting for a quiet Sunday, make yourself an Aperol Spritz like I did, and enjoy a leisurely baking session.
Sweet Tau Sar Piah
300g split mung beans, soaked overnight and drained
A small pinch of salt
70ml cooking oil
1/4 cup water
• Steam mung beans for 45 mins until soft.
• Add sugar and cooking oil to the mung beans, mix and blend until fine.
• Place in a wok and fry, then add the water and cook until it is relatively dry but still moist enough to hold together when it is squeezed.
• Set aside to cool.
300g plain flour
1/2 tsp sugar
50 ml cooking oil
• Place all the ingredients in a bowl, stir to combine well and bring it together to form a dough. Set aside to rest for 30 mins.
125g plain flour
• Mix together to form a dough and set aside to rest for 30 mins.
Now, that the preparation has been done, it’s time to make the tau sar piah.
• Divide the mung bean filling into 12g portions
• Divide water dough into 11g portions, and oil dough into 6g portions. Roll them individually into balls.
• Roll a piece of water dough and roll into a round thin disc. Place a ball of oil dough on the disc and wrap the oil dough evenly in the water dough. Roll in the palm of your hand until it forms a ball.
• Roll it into a thin disc again, and place a portion of the mung bean filling on it. Wrap it up again into a ball, with the filling nicely encased inside.
• Brush with egg wash and bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 40-45 mins until golden.
• Set aside to cool, then store in an airtight container.