Eat To Live

A poached pear dessert inspired by cheng tng

Pieces of poached pear sitting in a puddle of honeyed sweetness with a peeled lychee on top.
Pieces of poached pear sitting in a puddle of honeyed sweetness with a peeled lychee on top.ST PHOTO: MARCUS TAN

This is a healthier variation of the traditional cheng tng dessert

This dessert is as pristine as it looks.

Pretty in white, with a peek of red from the hawthorn berries, it is just a poached pear surrounded by nutty lotus seeds and crunchy white fungus.

They sit in a soup, subtly sweetened with honey and spiked with rice wine.

The recipe takes its inspiration from cheng tng, a popular Chinese dessert that literally means clear soup.

The original recipe for cheng tng can include dried longans, barley, gingko nuts, lotus seeds, dried persimmon and, of course, white fungus and agar agar strips. I chose ingredients that would not detract from the aim of a bowl of whiteness.

I also wanted a light pear fragrance to perfume the soup, like the poached pears of Western desserts, rather than the robust dried longan of traditional Chinese desserts.

To keep it clear, I sit pieces of the poached pear in a puddle of honeyed sweetness, spiked by a splash of white rice wine.

How beautiful (and healthy) can it get? Really, we should look more frequently to Chinese desserts for that sweet finish to a meal.

Think of it: A Chinese meal often ends with dessert soups (cheng tng, red or green bean soups, almond or sesame soups), jellies (soya bean curd, grass or almond jelly) or vegetable mash (or nee or yam paste with gingko nuts, pumpkin puree with pumpkin seeds).

None of these has cream or butter and none, too, has flour, though, admittedly, you cannot run away from the sugar. It is, after all, a dessert.

So if you long for a bit of sweetness after a meal, a Chinese dessert would do better than most Western offerings.

What you need to do is to update the traditional recipe to suit a modern palate.

Here, I made a poached pear the centrepiece, but added a peeled lychee on top to add more fruit to the bowl.

You can also use fresh longans or a pineapple slice.

I omitted most of the traditional ingredients associated with cheng tng. Instead, I chose those that added crunch (white fungus and agar strips) and for a rich mouth feel, lotus seeds, though you can also add almonds or gingko nuts instead of ice cream, a traditional match for poached fruit.

There are health benefits to each of these chosen ingredients - the hawthorn berries are heart- healthy, the pear has fibre and antioxidants, and the lotus seeds are a good source of protein. And white fungus has a host of medicinal properties.

This pear cheng tng, a take on a traditional recipe, makes for a healthy and clean ending to a meal.

•Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.


PEAR CHENG TNG

INGREDIENTS

1 green pear, peeled, cored and halved lengthwise

1 piece dried white fungus, soaked, then rinsed well and drained

1 cup hydrated lotus seeds, available in supermarkets

2 fresh lychees, peeled

1 strip of dried agar agar, soaked to soften, then squeezed dry and snipped into short lengths

1 tbsp dried red hawthorn berries

SYRUP

1 to 2 tbsp honey

½ cup rice wine

2 cups water

METHOD

Soak the white fungus in water for a couple of hours, then drain. It will plump up and become soft and translucent. Rinse well and snip into smaller pieces.

Soak agar agar strips till they soften. Drain and snip into short lengths.

Peel, halve and remove the core of the pear

Put pear halves, fungus pieces, lotus seeds, dried red hawthorn berries, honey, wine and water into a pot, simmer for half an hour. Fungus should be soft but retain its bite, and the pears, tender and translucent.

Taste and adjust sweetness. I try to apportion a spoonful of honey per person.

Top with a peeled fresh lychee or other fruit and softened agar strips before serving. The lychee adds freshness and the agar agar strips, more texture to the dessert soup.

SERVES TWO


Dessert is low in fat, high in fibre

All fruits are healthy. However, some might contain more carbohydrates, such as banana and durian.

Portion control is the key.

Pears are low in calories and high in fibre - 100g of pear gives 58kcal and 3g of fibre.

They also contain antioxidants which protect us from free radicals, keeping us young and healthy.

(Free radicals are cell-destroying chemicals that have been linked to degenerative diseases, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and the effects of ageing.)

Dried white fungus is also low in calories and high in fibre.

A cup of fungus has 56kcal and 8.5g of fibre. A cup of fungus would help us meet 42 per cent of our daily recommended fibre intake.

In traditional Chinese nutrition, it is believed to improve blood circulation and strengthen the respiratory system.

Lychees contain antioxidants and is an excellent source of vitamin C - 100g of lychees gives 75 per cent of our daily vitamin C requirement.

Lotus seeds are a good source of protein, magnesium and potassium. They are low in fat and can be a healthy snack.

Wolfberries are high in carbohydrates but have a good amount of fibre and protein - at 7g and 8g respectively.

They are packed with a variety of antioxidants, including plant pigments called phenols, polysaccharides, vitamins A and C, beta carotene, lycopene, riboflavin, thiamine, selenium and nicotinic acid.

When eaten in moderation, these foods would be beneficial to health due to their high content of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

This dessert is low in fat and high in fibre. Most of the calories come from the rice wine and honey. Go easy on the syrup if needed.

NUTRITION INFORMATION

(per serving: 529.7g)

Energy: 273kcal

Protein: 5.3g

Total fat: 0.1g

Saturated fat: 0g

Dietary fibre: 5g

Sugar: 23.3g

Carbohydrate: 33g

Cholesterol: 0mg

Sodium: 14.3mg

Bibi Chia

Principal dietitian, Raffles Diabetes and Endocrine Centre

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 23, 2016, with the headline 'A bowl of white goodness'. Print Edition | Subscribe