Chè chuối is a warm, Vietnamese pudding-like dessert featuring bananas and rich coconut cream. You can easily make this at home in less than an hour!
Chè in Vietnamese, refers to sweet desserts which are liquid such as drinks, pudding, or even types of ‘soup.’ So chè chuối you could say is a type of pudding, made of coconut cream, tapioca pearls and bananas.
Direct translations don’t always fit perfectly since ‘pudding’ brings to mind cold desserts, but this Vietnamese banana ‘pudding’ is mostly eaten slightly warm or room temp because the tapioca in it can make it feel too starchy when served cold.
Choosing the Right Bananas
Picking the right variety and ripeness of bananas is the most important part of this recipe, since the flavor and texture can vary so much.
In Vietnam, cooks use a type of banana called chuối sứ which is available in some Vietnamese markets in the US if you want to make it the traditional way. In this recipe, we use plantains because the other variety was not available. It’s still an excellent choice, just as Filipino bananas are too if you can find them.
Just like when you eat plain bananas, ripeness is everything. Too green and it’s starchy and astringent, too ripe and it’s mush. Whichever bananas you choose, perfectly ripe bananas are soft to the touch, have a skin that’s yellow with hints of orange and it will be sweet. You don’t want it to be green. When the banana has blackened or browned skin, it’s a sign that it might be bruised inside which we don’t want. Peel the skin to check, and don’t get caught!
Tapioca Pearls for Thickening
Tapioca pearls are made from cassava root starch–a root you’ll often find in other Vietnamese desserts.
These little white pearls turn clear when cooked and are used to thicken the che/pudding. The pearls need to be soaked before use so they soften–just 15-20 minutes in warm water should do the trick. Soaking the pearls before cooking will reduce the time you need to cook them later.
All brands of tapioca pearls are essentially the same, but the size you pick is affects soak time and final presentation of the dessert. Go for the smallest pearls you can find. The zig zag-cut tapioca strips look pretty cool too.
Don’t Skimp On The Coconut Cream
Coconut cream adds a lot of the flavor and fat to this che/pudding recipe. Note that coconut milk and coconut cream are not the same thing. We want cream here–a good grand is Savoy coconut cream.
In a perfect world we’d all make our own coconut cream for the freshest taste. In Vietnam and Thailand they make this cream with fresh coconuts because it’s much cheaper than buying canned varieties. Prices for fresh vs. canned are reversed in the US, and making your own cream here leaves a lot of room for error, so buying canned will save you lots of trouble.
If you have access, frozen coconut creme from Filipino (and other Asian) markets tastes even better than canned, but is triple the cost.
A Wonderful Aromatic Component: Pandan Leaves
Pandan leaves are a very common ingredient in Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian foods, especially desserts. Above we have some leaves tied into knots, so it stays compact and easy to manage in the pot.
You can find pandan leaves in Vietnamese, Filipino and Thai markets in both the fresh and frozen sections. Choose the darkest leaves you can find, which signifies age and a stronger aroma. Surprisingly, the frozen variety is better than fresh since they’re grown outside the US in more ideal climates.
If you don’t live in an area where you can get fresh pandan, go for frozen. As a last resort you can use dried pandan leaves instead. Don’t resort to the artificial pandan extract, you can make this dessert without it too.
- 1 pound ripe Vietnamese bananas, or plantains
- 4 ounces sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons small tapioca balls
- 4 pandan leaves (or a few drops of pandan flavoring if leaves aren't available)
- ½ can coconut creme, Savoy brand
- 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts, lightly crushed
- 2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds, lightly crushed
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Soak the tapioca balls in warm water for about 20 minutes, then drain.
- Peel and cut bananas then marinate it in 4oz sugar to sweeten them. Make sure all sides of the bananas are covered in sugar, then cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes to 2 days. The longer you can marinate, the better.
- Bring 2 cups of water to a boil with 2 knots of pandan leaves. Turn the heat to medium, and simmer for about 20 minutes to extract the pandan flavor.
- Add the remaining ingredients into the pot (banana, coconut creme, tapioca, salt), simmer on medium for about 15-20 minutes more until bananas reach desired softness.
- Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle a bit on top of each individual serving