These Chinese mung bean cakes (绿豆糕) are so tasty as a gluten-free and vegan dessert. They are elegantly pressed out of a mooncake mold, but you can make them without the mold too. This mung bean cake recipe was originally written for my cookbook, Vegan Chinese Cookbook.
Mung bean cakes are a summertime dessert and by tradition are often eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival, which is usually in early summer. There are endless ways to make them, and they can be as simple as this three-ingredient version which is accessible for home cooks while still being authentic.
Why is Mung Bean Cake Eaten in the Summer?
Traditional Chinese Medicine believes that mung beans are cooling and detoxifying in nature. Mung beans may help to alleviate fever, quench thirst, reduce water retention (edema), and improve vision. Foods made from mung beans are suitable for clearing body heat and other symptoms during the hot summer months. Therefore, mung bean cakes became a very popular summer dessert.
Easy Mung Bean Cakes
This version of the mung bean cake is extremely easy to make using only 3 ingredients.
- Peeled Dried Mung Beans: It is really impractical to peel the skin of the mung beans on your own. So, look for already peeled dried mung beans at the grocery stores. Chinese supermarkets usually carry them. The kind I buy comes in a 300-gram package, which is exactly 1 1/2 cups called for in this recipe.
- Granulated Sugar: A regular granulated white sugar works just fine in this recipe. For a healthier alternative, you can use organic unrefined cane sugar. However, I would avoid any darker sugar, such as brown sugar or coconut sugar. Dark sugars will tint the mung bean cakes and affect their elegant appearance. You can also use powdered sugar or any kind with smaller crystals than the regular granulated sugar. I don’t recommend sugar with larger crystals, because they won’t dissolve easily into the mung bean paste.
- Corn oil: Traditionally, corn oil is a common ingredient in the mung bean cakes, because its mildly sweet and neutral flavour works really well with mung beans and in desserts. In the absence of corn oil, you can use another neutral oil such as avocado oil (my healthy oil of choice) or canola oil. If you are not vegan, you can also make this recipe with butter or lard, both of which are very authentic as the added fat in mung bean cakes.
Mung Bean Cake Variations
If you want to make a fancier version of the mung bean cake, there are a few popular variations to try. For example, you can make osmanthus-flavoured mung bean cakes, simply by adding either dried osmanthus flower or sugar-preserved osmanthus (also called osmanthus flower jam and usually contains honey) into the dough.
You can also stuff your mung bean cake with a sweet red bean filling. You can buy sweet red bean paste in vacuum-sealed package in the fridge section of the Chinese supermarkets. The red bean paste is ready for use and consumption right out of the package. To make a stuffed mung bean cake, put a little red bean paste inside the mung bean dough, before shaping the cake with a mold.
Special Tools and Equipments
To make this recipe, you will need the following tools.
- Steamer: Ideally a flat-bottomed stainless steel or bamboo steamer with a large pot, in order to hold a dish containing the dried mung beans.
- Mooncake Mold: I highly recommend getting a mooncake mold. They are inexpensive and easy to use. You can use the mooncake mold to shape cookies as well.
Making without a Mooncake Mold
If you don’t have a mooncake mold, you can still make these mung bean cakes. You can use the cups of a silicone baking mold. Or instead of making individual cakes, press the dough into a container to form a block and then cut it into squares.
More Plant-Based Favourites from Vegan Chinese Cookbook:
Mung Bean Cakes (Gluten-Free, Vegan, 3 Ingredients)
- 1 1/2 cups peeled dried mung beans
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup corn oil or another very mild-flavoured oil
- Soak the beans for 12 hours or overnight. Drain them completely.
- Place the beans on a deep plate in a steamer. Heat the steamer over high heat until it comes to full steam. Reduce the heat to medium and steam for 30 minutes. Press a bean between your fingers; if it crumbles, it’s cooked.
- Transfer the beans to a food processor and pulse to break them down into a powder. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the sugar and the oil and mix well.
- Heat a wok or a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the paste to the wok and cook it to dry up excess moisture and dissolve the sugar. Fold it with a spatula constantly to prevent browning, until the paste turns into a dough.
- Let the dough cool for about 10 minutes. Press a piece of the dough into a moon cake mold to make a small cake (follow the instructions that came with the mold as they can differ in size). Repeat until all of the dough has been used. (If you don’t have a moon cake mold, you can use the cups of a silicone baking mold. Or instead of making individual cakes, press the dough into a container to form a block and then cut it into squares.)
- Serve the cakes either fresh or chilled for a better taste. If you're not eating them right away, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.