There’s nothing more cooling on a hot, muggy Malaysian afternoon than a bowl of ais kacang (red bean ice dessert). Growing up in Kuching, it was a huge treat to head down the road to St Mike’s Café after a Saturday morning of school club activities, and order a 40 sen (equivalent to around NZD$0.16) bowl of ais kacang.
Ais kacang is a simple Malaysian dessert of sweet red beans, shaved ice, with gula Melaka (palm sugar) syrup, evaporated milk or santan (coconut milk) and topped with a splash of grenadine syrup. Ais batu campur (aka ABC, mixed ice dessert), which has a range of other ingredients included, is often erroneously called ais kacang.
You will need an ice shaver or a blender with a ice crusher function. I left out the grenadine syrup (available from liquor stores) as I try to stay away from synthetic colouring but the rose coloured syrup is customary.
2 cups red beans
1 ½ cups sugar
6 cups water
1 tsp salt
400g (1 packet) gula Melaka (palm sugar)
2kg ice cubes
400ml coconut milk
Malibu coconut flavoured rum (optional)
Rinse the red beans several times in water, then transfer the beans to a heavy bottom pot and fill with water to cover the beans. Soak for 4 hours – overnight. Rinse the beans again, then fill with 6 cups water. Bring to boil and simmer for 1 hour until the beans are cooked through. Pour off the liquid, add the sugar and salt, and simmer for ~1 hour until thickened.
To make the gula Melaka syrup: smash the blocks of palm sugar. Put the pulverised crumbs into a small heavy bottom saucepan, with the water and stir over low heat until all the sugar has melted. <
To make the dessert:
If you have a ice-shaver, shave ¾ cup ice per person. If using a blender, pulse 3 cups of ice, ½ cup of water, and ½ cup of coconut milk until ice is flaky.
Fill a low glass ⅔ with shaved ice, and pour 2 Tbsp of the liquid. Top with 4 heaped teaspoon of red bean, and drizzle 2 tablespoons (more if you like it sweeter) of gula Melaka syrup. Add a splash of Malibu coconut rum and serve immediately.