Chinese Dessert – Sweet Potato Sweet Soup (番薯姜汤糖水)

Chinese Swet Potato Soup 001 edited re-sized

Growing up in my father’s home, one of a variety of sweet Chinese dessert soups were served to us at tea time. Our parents and paternal grandma came from China. Our domestic helpers were also migrants from China. They all firmly believed in the nutritious value of different kinds of these soups. Each type of soup was served to aid our body’s constitution in a different manner. A bowl of sweet potatoes in ginger syrup (番薯姜汤 糖水) is believed to warm our constitution and to expel toxins. If the weather had been steamy hot, we were served green bean soup (绿豆汤) to cool our body systems. Lok Mei Tung (六味汤) was served frequently as it revitalises the internal organs,and nourishes the digestive, respiratory, and nervous systems. This soup is very similar to Cheng Tng (清汤) although Cheng Tng has more ingredients than Lok Mei Tung which is made up of 6 diffferent types of ingredients. Once a week, our helpers will boil a large pot of Pearl barley or Chinese water chestnut and sugar cane with sugar and pandan leaves, we drink the liquid as “Barley Water” to balance our yin and yang so that we don’t fall ill easily.

None of us were enthusiastic about tea-time when one of these soups were served. Then, we preferred cakes, ice cream, biscuits. As we become more health concious this season of our lives, we are much more receptive to such offerings! With the patience of saints, the elders coaxed us to eat a small bowl as it was good for us.

Serve this soup to the elderly especially if their appetite wanes and during confinement month to new mothers.

All over Hong Kong, you will find shops specialising in each of their own type/s of  Tung Sui (糖水). At the hawker centres and food courts in Malaysia and Singapore, there are stalls selling Asian desserts and you will find a version of this sweet dessert soup. This fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie soup provides major health benefits from sweet potatoes, a great source of beta-carotene, vitamin A, and healthy carbohydrates whilst the ginger removes wind and gas from our endocrine system.

Some Comments about the Ingredients

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I like to use Japanese sweet potatoes for this soup but feel free to substitute the orange sweet potato from Indonesian or Malaysia. In USA, these orange sweet potatoes are called yams and they feature in many Thanksgiving dishes. Even if you don’t have dried longans and red dates in your pantry or you are living in an area where you cannot get hold of some pandan leaves, you can still make this dessert with just brown sugar, ginger root and sweet potato. A warm soothing dessert that has health benefits to boot.

Dried longans from Thailand looks like what is shown in the photo above whilst dried longans from China are much darker in colour and they are pressed very firmly onto one another to make a solid block. Either can be used in this recipe. I happen to prefer dried longans from Thailand as they are firmer and retain their shape better after cooking.

Cooking

Chinese Sweet Potato Soup 003 edited re-sized

Step 1. Place all ingredients other than the sweet potatoes into a large pot and bring to boil till the rock sugar melts, the longans and red dates plump up and flavour the soup. Once the water comes to boil, continue to boil it over medium high for another 20 to 30 mins (not longer as the red dates and longans will loose their flavour and actually turn slightly sour).

Step 2. Whilst this is happening, scrub the sweet potatoes and steam them for about 10 to 15 mins. Cool steamed sweet potatoes for about 10 mins – to the stage when you can peel and cut each into thick slices or chunks.

This two step method is preferable if you like your sweet soup crystal clear. Boiling sweet potato chunks in the water makes the soup murky.

Chinese Sweet Potato Soup 004 edited re-sized

HINT: Covering the pot whilst you are bringing the soup to boil helps it to reach boiling point much faster and this is energy efficient. However, it is best to leave a gap for some steam to escape to prevent overflow of soup.

Chinese Sweet Potato Soup 005 edited re-sized

I like the soup with a deeper flavour. To achieve this, you can either replace some the brown rock sugar with one or 2 Tbsps of dark brown sugar (I didn’t have in my pantry but I had some Molasses so 1/2 Tbsp of that was added to the soup).

Recipe

Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 6  Japanese sweet potatoes
  • 4  Slices of fresh ginger root ( 40 to 45 gm of fresh ginger root, skinned and sliced)
  • 5 cups water
  • 16 dried red dates, seeded
  • 70 gm brown rock sugar
  • 1/2 Tbsp of molasses (optional)

Method

1. In a large pot, bring water, ginger, red dates and pandan leaves to  boil. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes to plump the dried ingredients and flavour the soup. Do not leach the flavour from them through over-boiling.

2. Meanwhile, scrub the sweet potatoes and steam them for about 10 to 15 mins. Test with a toothpick. Cool slightly. Once you can handle the steamed sweet potato, peel it and slice into thick slices or chunks.

3. Place several slices or chunks of sweet potato into each individual serving bowl and scoop a ladle or 2 of the sweet soup and its ingredients into the bowl. Serve.

Serving Suggestions

If you are planning to serve a Chinese meal, here are some links to other recipes. My preference would be to serve this as a hot dessert with a One Dish Meal.

Chinese Soups

1. Radishes with Dried Squid. Click here.

2. Lotus Root, Peanut and Pork Ribs. Click here.

3. Jin Hua Ham and Winter Melon. Click here.

Chinese One Dish Meals

1. Fried Rice. Click here.

2. Fried Yellow Noodles. Click here.

Chinese Seafood Dishes

1. Fried Fish with Fermented Black Bean Sauce. Click here.

2. Stuffed You Tiao (Baked).  Click here.

3. Quick Braised Sea Cucumber, Chicken and Mushrooms. Click here.

Chinese Meat Dishes

1. Chicken Breasts with ketchup. Click here.

2. Paper-Wrapped Chicken (baked). Click here.

3. Char Siew. Click here.

Chinese Vegetable Dishes

1. Broccoli and Meat/Tofu Stir Fry. Click here.

2. Spinach in Broth with 3 types of eggs. Click here.

3. Pork, Spinach and Egg Stir Fry. Click here.

4. Shanghai Cabbage with Oyster Sauce and Garlic. Click here.

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