While perusing my local organic farmers market on Saturday I was suddenly fixated on what looked like an astonishingly bright orange spiked “fruit?” “What is it” was met with puzzled looks from the vendor and equally curious fellow customers. Without hesitation it was in my possession and I headed off to my Thai friend to see if she knew anything about it, but she was summarily mystified as well.
Not to be deterred and thanks to the wonders of an internet photo ID app it was eventually identified as Xoi Gac (Vietnamese) or Gac Fruit, that is found growing on vines from southern China and throughout SE Asia. Highly prized in Vietnam and used particularly for TET (Vietnamese New Year) celebrations.
But that was just the beginning of this mysterious encounter. Gac, as it turns out, is a super fruit high in antioxidants and containing very high levels of lycopene/ beta carotene, and vitamins C & E, used for both medicinal and culinary purposes for centuries in SE Asian cultures. Further research provided more information on how to prepare this other worldly fruit for consumption. Traditionally the auspicious blood red flesh that surrounds the seeds is mixed with glutinous (sticky) rice and steamed, formed into small rice cakes and served along with sweet bean paste, coconut creme, and toasted shredded coconut. The red signifies good fortune…of course!
With enough Information and feeling confident I was anxious to give it a try…off to the kitchen! A step by step recipe follows, turning this unusual exotic fruit into a sweet delight that has been enjoyed in SE Asia, although largely unknown beyond the region until recently! Finding Gac at your local specialty produce shop or Vietnamese market may be a challenge, but look for it from mid-summer through December.
Gac fruit sticky rice cakes:
Advice: Have some latex gloves on hand!
- 1 Gac Fruit
- 1/2 cup/110ml coconut milk
- 1/3 cup/80 grams sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- coconut creme (available in 160ml cans at Asian markets), adding 1 teaspoon honey & 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- toasted shredded coconut
Rinse the glutinous rice several times. Place in a large bowl, add water to cover well, and soak overnight.
Wearing latex gloves slice the Gac fruit in half lengthwise and remove the blood red flesh and seeds in the center and place in a large bowl. Massage the flesh and rub the seeds to remove the red coating surrounding the seeds, discarding the seeds as you work. Anyone arriving in the kitchen will think you have just committed a hideous crime! It is messy, but carry on until all the seeds have been removed.
Drain the soaked rice and place it in the bowl with the red Gac paste and mix everything together, massaging the Gac mixture into the rice until the rice is uniformly stained red.
Line a bamboo steamer with cheese cloth and place the rice mixture in the steamer. Place the lid on the steamer and steam for 30 to 45 minutes over medium heat. Test the rice by tasting. It should be soft but not soggy. When done place the steamed rice into a bowl and add the coconut milk, sugar, and salt and mix together well. Line a tray with parchment and evenly distribute the rice, evening out the surface with a wet wooden spoon. Cool, cover with plastic film, and refrigerate until you are ready to cut the rice into portions.
Remove from the refrigerator and cut the rice into squares, wedges, or circles of equal size; about 2 inches square or diameter. Place on a tray and top each rice cake with a layer of bean paste (recipe follows) cut to the same size. Add another layer of rice cake on top. Continue assembling the remaining cakes.
Be sure to bring the rice cakes to room temperature or even warmed in the oven before serving!, This really brings out the subtle flavor of the Gac! Drizzle coconut creme (also at room temperature) over the rice cakes and top with toasted shredded coconut.
Sweet bean paste:
- 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons/40grams sugar
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup coconut milk
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup mung beans (or other bean of choice), soaked overnight
Place the beans in a bamboo steamer lined with cheese cloth and steam until very soft. Steaming time will vary depending on the age of the beans, generally 30 minutes to 1 hour.
When cooked, place the beans in food processor and add the sugar, ½ cup of coconut milk and salt and process until the beans are pureed, adding additional coconut milk as needed, until the bean puree gathers together like soft bread dough. Place in a parchment lined tray and spread the bean paste evenly filling the tray. Smooth the surface with a wet wooden spoon and set aside to cool, cover with plastic film, and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the rice cakes.
When ready to assemble the rice cakes, cut the bean paste to the exact same size and shape of the rice cakes and place between two layers of rice cakes as described in the recipe above.