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Cooking With Kurma > Glossary > Pandan Leaves

Pandan Leaves

An aromatic member of the pandanus family, pandan is also sometimes referred to as screwpine. These long, thin, green leaves are popular in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand as an important flavouring agent for savoury and sweet dishes. The flavour of pandan is pandan leafhauntingly aromatic and delicate, and it is as important to Asians as vanilla is to Westerners.

Sometimes the leaves are pounded and strained to extract
their flavour and colour for cakes and sweets, or tied in a knot and simmered in a sweet dish to gently release its heavenly flavour.

Their flavour can also be extracted by cooking whole sections of leaf in a savoury dish and removing it after cooking. Two of my favourites are to drop a strip about 4 inches (10cm) into a pot of cooking rice to perfume it, or to simmer it in vegetable curries based around coconut milk.

Pandan leaves are available frozen from well-stocked Asian grocers, and occasionally fresh. Excess fresh leaves can be frozen in plastic bags for later. Pandan extract or flavouring is an acceptable, although inferior substitute.

Pandan leaves are known as daun pandan in Indonesia and Malaysia, rampe in Sri Lanka, bai toey in Thailand and la dua in Vietnam.

Here’s one of my favourite pandan-scented sweet recipes.

Indonesian Pandan-flavoured Sticky Coconut Dumplings (Onde-Onde)Indonesian Pandan-scented Sticky Coconut Dumplings (Onde-Onde)

Also known as kuih buah melaka, these sweets derive their pleasantly chewy texture from glutinous rice flour. All the ingredients for onde-onde are available at Asian supermarkets. Makes 20 dumplings.

one 20cm (8-inch) strip of fresh or frozen pandan leaf
few drops green colouring (optional)
1¼ cups glutinous (sticky) rice flour
¼ cup plus 1½ tablespoons boiling water
60g (2 ounces) palm sugar cut into small pieces
1 cup freshly grated coconut mixed with
a pinch of salt

Pound and squeeze the pandan leaf in a mortar and pestle with 2 tablespoons of hot ater to extract its fragrant green juice.

Sift the glutinous rice flour into a bowl.

Pour in a combination of the boiling water and 1 tablespoon of the pandan juice mixed with the optional green food colouring. Mix well, and knead into a firm lump of dough.

Roll the mixture into marble-size balls. Flatten each ball slightly and insert 1 or 2 pieces of palm sugar. Fully enclose the sugar, and re-shape into balls, being sure that the dough is fully sealed with no cracks or exposed sugar. If cracks appear, simply moisten them with water and seal again.

Bring to the boil water in a large saucepan, and drop in half the balls. When cooked, the balls will rise to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon, shake them dry, and immediately roll them in the grated coconut.

Serve warm or cold.

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