Lotus, Purple Sweet Potato, and Coconut Rice Pudding
Coconut rice pudding is a sweet, luscious, and comforting dessert. Fold in crunchy lotus root, soft lotus seeds, and purple sweet potatoes, and it becomes a one-of-a-kind treat that cooks in under 30 minutes.
For the new year, I turn a much-loved Vietnamese dish, rice pudding made with black-eyed peas into something of my own using traditional ingredients. The dish is a chè, a sweet soupy dessert eaten after dinner, as a late-night treat, or as a cooling snack during the day.
Lotus, Purple Sweet Potato, and Coconut Rice Pudding is a joyful and delicious dish that plays with texture—succulent sweet potatoes, crunchy lotus root, and soft lotus seeds are hugged by the sweet coconut rice pudding.
As the rice cooks, the purple sweet potatoes turn the rice pudding into a cheerful shade of purple I love. Coconut cream is drizzled over the top to serve. The rice pudding is warm and textured, a contrast to the smooth silky coconut cream. It’s soothing and comforting in the cold winter months.
Food is medicine in the Vietnamese culture. You are what you eat and what you eat is what you reap. This dish is rich with ingredients we value for their nutritional and medicinal benefits.
Lotus Roots and Lotus Seeds
Lotus roots are the stems of a lotus plant, which grow under water. A whole lotus root looks dowdy like a thick sausage, but once sliced, the beautiful holes inside are revealed making them appear floral and geometric.
The root tastes like a mild sweet celery and the seeds are nutty—they give the pudding a sweet, floral, and anise-like scent.
Lotus roots must be cooked and cannot be eaten raw. I like to slice the lotus root thinly crosswise so that it cooks through along with the rest of the ingredients. Even when thinly sliced they will retain their crunch when cooked.
I use store-bought canned lotus seeds for ease—some brands are crunchier than others.
Tips for Perfectly Cooked Rice Pudding
Here are some tips to get luscious and perfectly cooked rice pudding:
- Glutinous rice is sticky and the perfect texture for making creamy rice pudding. All types of non-glutinous rice are too loose. I would not recommend them.
- Make sure to soak the glutinous rice first; otherwise, the outer layer of the grains will overcook while the inside stays raw.
- Keep the lid on as much as possible so that the coconut water does not evaporate while the rice pudding cooks. You will have to stir it every five minutes. Place the pot over low heat so the bottom does not catch and burn. If the rice pudding looks thirsty, add more coconut water.
- You can make the rice pudding runny or gloppy, it’s up to how you like it. Add more coconut water to loosen it.
Yummy Swaps that Work
The purple sweet potatoes seep into the rice pudding, adding a lovely light purple hue. Add more for a deeper purple. If you can’t find purple sweet potatoes, use orange ones or better still, use pumpkin, if in season.
I love using palm sugar in this recipe, but you can use rock sugar, found in most Asian grocery stores, or a good drizzle of honey or maple syrup.
My Favorite Variations
It’s okay to use either lotus root or lotus seeds if you have difficulty finding them. As an alternative to both, try cooked black-eyed peas or just use the sweet potatoes. It is simple yet ever so delicious.
For midweek treats, I love plain coconut rice pudding (without the sweet potatoes, lotus root, and lotus seeds) with chunks of banana added the last five minutes of cooking. An even better option? Caramelize the bananas with a little sugar and add them on top of the rice pudding to serve.
If you’re serving it for a special occasion, do try to prep the ingredients ahead then cook it right before serving. To me, rice pudding is most delicious when it comes straight from the hot pot—the rice is just cooked and not too soggy.
If you aren’t serving it immediately, make the rice pudding ahead of time and keep it refrigerated for a day or so. Rice pudding can be eaten cold just out of the fridge, which is great in the summer. Some coconut creams become solid at room temperature. Loosen it in a small pot over low heat with a little coconut water until it becomes a double cream-like consistency or use coconut milk.
More Creamy Puddings to Try
- Tembleque (Puerto Rican Coconut Pudding)
- Creamy Chai-Spiced Vegan Rice Pudding
- Slow Cooker Orange Almond Rice Pudding
- Rice Pudding
- Tapioca Pudding
Soak the glutinous rice:
In a small bowl, add the glutinous rice and cover it with water by at least 2 inches. Allow the rice to soak for at least 30 minutes. Drain the rice well into a fine mesh sieve set over the sink.
Make the rice pudding:
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the drained rice, purple sweet potatoes, lotus root, 1 2/3 cups coconut water, and palm sugar.
Use a wooden spoon to stir well and bring it to a boil. As soon as it comes up to a boil, put the lid on and reduce the heat to the lowest setting. Allow it to cook for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the bottom does not burn. The rice will be fluffy, sticky, and double in size.
Add the remaining 1 1/3 cups coconut water, lotus seeds, and 1/3 cup coconut cream. Stir well, put the lid on, and cook for 5 minutes. Taste the rice. It should be soft.
Serve the rice pudding warm in bowls with extra coconut cream drizzled over the top.