Teochew Orh Nee 潮式芋泥
潮式芋泥 Teochew Orh Nee or Taro Paste is a dessert that goes back a long way for my family. Unlike the other chinese desserts which my mother would frequently prepare, orh nee was not something which we had often. This is probably because it takes quite a bit of time and effort to make. Its not a dessert commonly seen in the hawker centre dessert stalls too, probably for the same reasons as well. Memories of this dish come from attending wedding banquets, where it is almost customary for it to be served as the last course at a Teochew restaurant. The feelings were somewhat bittersweet, as I’d love to eat orh nee and thus much anticipated for the it to come right at the very end, yet at the same time, couldn’t help but felt dejected, as it would also mark the end of a feast.
I’d made orh nee several times throughout these years. Time-consuming it might be, but definitely no fiendishly difficult as what some propounds it to be. Once in a while when I’m lazy, I would settle for storebought ones from the chilled foods section. Those only need to be reheated in a microwave for a couple of minutes and thus instant gratification they may provide, but for me to make it on my own brings it much further. So yes, its definitely worth the effort to whip it up whenever I have a craving and I have some time to spare. And using the freshest ingredients possible makes it all the more assuring that you are getting quality food, and not some shady stuff laced with preservatives and what-nots. It takes an evening and a morning to prepare, so if you have a weekend to spare, why not make your own?
500g Taro aka chinese yam 芋头
half of medium sized pumpkin 金瓜/南瓜 (preferably Japanese kabocha)
12 gingko nuts 白果/银杏
200g chinese brown sugar slabs 片糖
500g water 水
4 tbsp caster sugar 细砂糖
100 g lard oil or good cooking oil 油 （I used Knife brand)
5 shallots 葱头
water for soaking gingko nuts
thick coconut milk (optional)
The evening before, crack gingko nuts and remove shell. Add them to a pot of boiling water, turn off flame and leave to settle for 10-15 min.
Remove the nuts from water and gently rub them between a clean kitchen towel to remove their membranes, which should come off easily. Discard soaking water.
To a pot, add 500g water, peeled gingko nuts and chinese brown sugar slabs. Heat to melt the sugar completely. Let the mixture simmer with lid on on a medium flame for about 30-40 min. Turn off flame and let the gingko nuts steep in the syrup overnight.
On the next day, peel taro and cut into thin slices. Arrange on a metal dish and steam for 20-30 min under soft. Do likewise for the pumpkin.
Once the taro slices are out of the steamer, mash them up with the back of a fork, adding caster sugar at the same time. If the mixture is too dry, add 2-3 tbsp of the gingko nuts syrup. Taste and add more syrup or caster sugar if required. Tweak the level of sweetness to personal preference. Cover with clingfilm.
Peel shallots and finely slice them.
In a wok or wide saucepan, add oil and sliced shallots. Gently stir-fry on medium low heat until the shallot discs begin to brown and crisp up. Strain the shallots from the oil. The fried shallots could be used as a topping for other dishes e.g. fried noodles or fried rice.
Return oil back to the wok, turn down the flame to low. Add mashed taro paste and mix until well amalgamated. Taste again and add more sugar if required. Also, if coconut milk is used, it can be added at this point. Cut back the oil by half if so and add accordingly until the desired texture is achieved.
Allow the taro paste to cool down considerably. Transfer into a food blender and blitz until smooth. For a lighter and creamier texture, more coconut milk or gingko nut syrup can be added at this point.
Mash cooked pumpkin coarsely with the back of a fork but do not blitz. This is to add more textural contrast to the dessert. Add some gingko nut syrup if the mixture is too dry.
To serve, scoop a portion of taro paste into a dessert bowl, top with a tablespoon of pumpkin paste and 3 candied gingko nuts.
Despite being fairly straightforward, there are some things to take note of when preparing this dessert. Its better to use big taros as the “yams” tend to get more starchy when they get older and bigger. Bigger yams also tend to develop more purple speckling and venation within while young yams would turn out more greyish after steaming. Ask the vegetable seller for a yam which is more “sang” 松 in Teochew. Traditionally, orh nee is made with 荔浦芋头 from China, but what we get in Singapore are mostly Thai yams which we have to make do with. The rest of the yam can be usef for other dishes!
Its easier to mash the taro while it is still hot from the steaming process. The heat also helps to melt the sugar and bind everything together nicely. If sugar syrup is added to the taro, do try to warm it first before using to prevent the taro paste from cooling down too rapidly.
Temperature control while stir-frying shallots is important as they tend to brown too much and too quickly if the oil emperature is too high and impart an undesirable bitter charred taste to the oil. Orh Nee is traditionally made with lard but that’s rather unhealthy. I still want a few more years to enjoy more orh nee amongst other desserts, so I went with cooking oil instead. Knife brand proved very satisfactory and my mother, together with her mother, i.e. my grandmother swears by it. So for me to use Knife brand vegetable oil is merely an inheritance of a family tradition.
Choice of pumpkin is important too. I used Japanese kabocha as they are sweeter and look lovely with that egg yolk orange-yellow hue. I think buttersquash would work well too! Love the sweetness and creamy textures of the latter as well!
Processed gingko nuts are reasily available in vacuum packs in chinese supermarkets but use only when fresh ones are not available. Troublesome it may be, but It is so much better to use fresh ones and crack them on your own. The processed ones tend to be slightly colored and God knows what dye was used. And don’t pop too many gingko nuts at one go and they do contain certain chemicals within which are mildly toxic. Relatively harmless at low dosages, but can become lethal with more. Avoid feeding gingko nuts to young children.
I’m submitting this post to Aspiring Bakers #20: Asian dessert buffet! (June 2012) hosted by Moon of Food Playground.