We celebrated Chinese New Year this weekend, ahead of the actual lunar New Year’s Day on February 8. As part of our meal, I wanted to try my hand at a tong sui (糖水), a Cantonese style of dessert, in particular, an almond sweet soup.
After attending a potluck on Saturday, we hosted our own dinner on Sunday. We prepared an enormous, homemade meal: scallion pancakes, fried vegetable dumplings, steamed shrimp and chive dumplings, Buddha’s delight and noodles with spicy mushroom ragu. Sweet treats during CNY usually consist of candied things (like coconut, winter melon, lotus seeds, kumquats, or ginger), a steamed glutinous rice cake called nin gou, pomelo and clementines, and peanut puff (角仔). But it’s cold out, and I wanted to make something warm and comforting.
The recipe I followed makes 2 to 3 servings, so I tripled it. I began by soaking 450 grams of natural almonds in cold water for a few hours. This served two purposes: to allow the skins to be slipped off, and to soften the nuts for the blender. If you buy unblanched almonds, you’ll save yourself some time and effort. I also washed and soaked some jasmine rice, which serves to thicken the soup.
The next step is to liquify the almonds and rice with water. Using a powerful blender like a VitaMix or BlendTec, this won’t take much time. You also won’t need to strain everything through a cheesecloth, unless you want an ultra-smooth texture. As this mixture is cooked, it will start to thicken and set on the bottom of the pot. Keep stirring with a whisk or silicone spoon, so that the cooked rice doesn’t burn or form lumps. Chinese sweet soups are typically sweetened with rock sugar (冰糖), a mild, crystalline sugar, and you add it towards the end. I ended up doubling the sugar called for in the recipe, to suit my taste.
Some recipes call for 北杏 (literally, north almonds, aka bitter almonds) to be added, to enhance the flavour. Found in Chinese groceries or medicinal shops, these are actually the kernels of a type of apricot. Health Canada warns about their potential toxicity and advises against their use. I added a few drops of almond extract instead.
I love tong sui. I grew up eating sweet soups of all kinds (nut-based, adzuki, mung bean, bird’s nest, papaya, silken tofu, tangyuan glutinous rice dumpling), so I love them. But it’s definitely an acquired taste. This almond sweet soup turned out okay: a little bit grainy, with a delicate almond flavour. In the future, I’d keep the proportions of almond and rice, but would try roasting the almonds first and straining the soup to get a silkier mouthfeel.