This is How They Cool Off in Shanghai

June  8, 2015

Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.

Today: We're about to introduce you to the perfect easy, sweet, and refreshing summertime pick-me-up. Enjoy it as chilled soup or in popsicle form. And, oh right—it's made with mung beans.

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While Shanghai is an astonishing city, its summers can be intolerable. The hundred-degree moist heat gets trapped and refracted within the skyscraper matrix, and in a city of people already resigned to living in close quarters, it sure makes everyone grouchy.

Our savior from the heat is not the hero we expected, but it is the hero we needed: the mung bean. These petite green beans (think Tic Tac-shaped peas) are known in Chinese homeopathy for their cooling properties and are traditionally eaten in a warm or chilled soup. The three-ingredient soup is simple to make: simply soak mung beans, boil them in water until they burst, and sweeten (yes, sweeten) the pot with sugar. 

The soup itself is refreshing, but the best part—especially on the hottest days—is that it can be converted into refreshing popsicles. Maybe you think it's a little weird to cool off with sweetened beans, but if you've ever had red beans in anything, think of this flavor as a milder version. It's a healthier alternative to all of your favorite Good Humor bars, especially since you can adjust the sugar and the amount of condensed milk you put into the popsicles to taste.

Are you ready to simmer down or ice up? Here's how to do it:

1. Soak some mung beans. The night before you make the soup, or at least a few hours in advance, let the beans sit in water. You can use whole or split mung beans, keeping in mind that whole mung beans will need to soak and cook for longer. Drain the beans when they've taken on water and expanded.


2. Just add water. Rinse the soaked mung beans, then add them to a soup or stock pot with fresh water. The ratio of beans to water should be somewhere between 1:6 or 1:8, with more water making a thinner soup. Just keep in mind that a thicker soup is better for popsicles. Heat everything until boiling, then lower the heat to a simmer at medium or medium-low.


3. Give it time. Simmer the pot, covered, for 40 minutes to 1 hour, until the beans are soft. During this time, some (or a lot) of the beans may burst open, but that's nothing to worry about. As long as the beans haven't dissolved completely, you're doing fine. 


4. Sweeten up the pot. Take the pot off, and stir in rock sugar to taste. If you can't find rock sugar, which is less sweet than granulated sugar, feel free to use any sugar you have on hand, but make sure to taste as you go. If making into popsicles, make sure to add a little extra sugar, as things tend to taste less sweet when frozen. Serve the soup warm in the cooler early morning, or chilled when it's sweltering out and your fans aren't enough.  


If you want to make popsicles:

5. Blend the soup to your liking. You can either blend the entire mixture for silky-smooth ice pops, blend half for a chewy texture, or skip the blending and leave all of the beans whole. It just depends on how much work you want to be doing while you eat. 

More: Let your inner mad popsicle scientist out and make up your own flavors with this basic ice pop how-to


6. Add milk. You can either add creaminess by pouring in condensed milk (or even coconut milk or cream), or you can skip it entirely—some people enjoy just having pure mung bean popsicles. If you do decide to add milk, wait until the soup has cooled to at least room temperature, then mix in the milk to taste. A milk to soup ratio of 1:4 is a good jumping-off point.


7. Freeze and serve. Pour the mixture into a popsicle mold, let it sit in the freezer for a few hours or overnight, and then unmold, serve, and cool yourself down. 

What's your favorite way to cool down on a hot day? Share with us in the comments! 

Photos by Mark Weinberg

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Jenny Xu

Written by: Jenny Xu

Dorm baker and connoisseur of digestive biscuits.


Bob December 21, 2015
Thanks for sharing this great recipe. Yummy.
Florisse June 9, 2015
I grew up eating red bean popsicles in the Philippines. Really good!
silverblue78 June 9, 2015
i need to find some popsicle molds!
Jona @. June 9, 2015
Great idea. Love how healthy it is, and miss Shanghai