Chilled Soup: Those Healing Green Beans


The Chinese in Singapore are big believers in the healing properties of soups — specifically, “heaty” and “cooling” soups, which either add fire to your body or cool it down, getting just the right balance of Yin and Yang. 

I know it’s sacrilege to say this — and I can already hear the clucking of my Mum and aunts who might actually read this — but I don’t give two hoots about heaty or cooling.

The most important question for me always is, “Does it taste good?”

And with green bean soup, the answer is: Yes, oh yes.

Despite my love for this sweet soup, I’ve never known how to make it. So, when my Let’s Lunch friends, a group of intrepid cooks spread across two continents who’ve been staging virtual lunchdates, suggested that we make a chilled soup for our next meal, I jumped at the excuse to learn my mother’s recipe.

In Singapore, this soup is generally eaten chilled or piping hot, as a dessert or a snack. In my home, however, I often had bowls of it for breakfast and, sometimes, lunch. When my friends were invited over for after-school lunches, my Mum would often whip out green bean soup and fried chicken wings for us. 

(It’s also supposed to be a “cooling” soup that helps prevent and get rid of acne. Perhaps Mum was just trying to save us all from pock-marked skin.)

Convincing her to teach me to make this soup, however, was no easy task. My mother, who sees herself as a lousy cook, generally avoids imparting any culinary advice. 

When you ask her how she’s made a dish, her answer often is, “Aiyah, you just throw everything in a pot and boil!” 

End of story.

Since this one-line cooking instruction would not suffice for Let’s Lunch, where cooks ranging from Nicole in San Diego to Ellise in Paris would be making soup and Tweeting about their recipes on the same day, my Mum finally relented. (I knew I could count on her deep-seated desire for me to have friends — this goes back to the time she tried bribing my fellow pre-schoolers with chocolate to get them to talk to me. I don’t think it worked.)

In any case, our tutorial began.

First, we started with some green beans (mung beans), pearl sago, tropical pandan leaves (which have a vanilla-like scent) and a sweet potato, which is optional. 


Now, this is a pretty basic soup. But my Mum usually adds sweet potato to the mix if she wants the soup to be a little heartier. (I think she thinks it also makes it look a little fancier.)

So, to impress my Let’s Lunch friends, we peeled and cut the sweet potato into small, bite-sized cubes.


Then, we put some water into a pot, knotted a few pandan leaves, throwing them in, and brought the liquid to a boil.

After a while, the green beans were added …


… and then the sweet potato and finally, the sago and sugar. 

After just a little more boiling — when the beans had split and softened — the soup was done.

So, yes, Mum wasn’t just being humble when she said the recipe consists of tossing everything into a pot and boiling.

But just because something is easy to make, it doesn’t mean it isn’t good. 

After a bowl of our soup, I wasn’t sure if I felt “cooler” or if my skin felt less oily. But another word for how I felt did come to mind: Content.


Check out the following chilled soups that other Let’s Lunch folks created:

Barbra‘s white gazpacho at Serve It Forth

Cathy‘s apple curry mint soup (in a hollowed-out apple bowl!) at Showfood Chef

Chris’s poached pear and bacon soup at Blog Well Done

Danielle‘s chilled borscht at Bon Vivant

Ellise‘s zucchini-cilantro soup at Cowgirl Chef

Kelsey‘s strawberry soup at The Naptime Chef

Nicole‘s ginger-cantaloupe soup at Pinch My Salt

Stephanie‘s white grape gazpacho at The Cosmic Cowgirl

Viviane‘s green gazpacho with cucumbers, yogurt and mint at Food & Style


My Mum’s Green Bean Soup Recipe


  • 1 cup dried green beans (also known as mung beans)
  • 2 TB pearl sago — add more if you like sago
  • 1 to 1.5 cups of peeled and cubed sweet potato
  • 3 TB of sugar (Note: Add much more if you like it sweet. My mother doesn’t make hers very sweet.)
  • 3 pandan leaves, knotted loosely
  • 7 to 8 cups of water

Add water and pandan leaves to pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Rinse the green beans and add them to the pot and boil for 25 to 30 minutes, adding the sweet potatoes halfway through. 

Then, add sago and sugar and boil for 10 more minutes. The soup is done when the beans have split and the sweet potato has softened. Serve hot or chilled.

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13 thoughts on “Chilled Soup: Those Healing Green Beans

  1. This is a wonderful looking soup. Where could we find the ingredients in NYC. I love hearing about the philosophies behind different foods, it is so interesting, the diversity in cultures and foods we eat – yet it is all delicious!

  2. In NYC, you can find pandan leaves (frozen), sago and green beans in Chinatown pretty easily. Let me know if you have problems!
    Ellise…my Mum is SO self-conscious of this soup. She wants everyone to know it’s really not a fancy soup but a basic comfort food soup!

  3. Mmmmm, yummy. I miss these ‘local’ soups so your recipes are a great help in my attempts to replicate them! Love how the sweet potatoes blend with the green beans after a day of boiling. How about sandwich spreads or salads for the next lunch date?

  4. I love this soup when it’s been served after a Chinese banquet, with the addition of coconut milk and strips of kelp. I never came across a recipe before though, so thank you Cheryl! These posts on Singapore are like a (transcribe) oral history project of Singaporean food.

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