The Pandan Hype (+ a recipe for kaya!)
There’s been a revelation in the food world. Nigella Lawson a.k.a. the Domestic Goddess herself has knighted a special ingredient "the next matcha”. And the lucky ingredient is… pandan. Cue media frenzy.
Yup, pandan. That humble little plant sitting snug in my backyard, spiky leaves and all, is now the next big thing in food. Well, according to Nigella at least, along with the countless other food media outlets and writers who’ve just hopped on the pandan hype-train. (I would include myself on that bandwagon, but honestly, I think all South-East Asians were given a free pass on it the day they were born.)
I'm not sure about other SEAsian, but Malaysians are definitely overzealous with our application of pandan, especially when it comes to desserts. That raw green, almost vanillin-like flavour is so ubiquitous in our dessert culture that I can’t name three Malaysian desserts without mentioning one with pandan in it. Think cendol, kuih ketayap, ondeh-ondeh, seri muka, kuih kosui, and 1653218 other kuihs. They all pretty much use the same three ingredients (pandan + coconut milk + gula melaka), just in different ways. While it might seem boring to have so many desserts with the same old flavour profile, I think it's a testament to just how murderously good this flavour combination is! If you haven't had it, you're truly missing out.
Pandan has even become one of the easiest go-to flavours when you’re trying to Malaysian-ise any dish. Don't believe me? Here, give it a try: crème brulee -> pandan crème brulee. (Wow, much Malaysian.) Here’s another one: roast chicken -> pandan roast chicken. (Wew bro, u orang Malaysia ke?) Okay you get the idea. Heck, we use pandan so much that it’s even found in our toilets. Pandan-scented reed sticks / air freshener / mosquito repellent, anyone?
I gotta admit though, Nigella’s recent prediction has got me feeling all kinds of weird. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE pandan, but it's just a bit rare to have such a humble Malaysian ingredient at the center of the world food media’s attention. After all, our cuisine has always been pretty niche on the world's stage.
I'm also dreading the potential cultural (mis)appropriation that might happen, because as much as I love pandan, nothing can convince me to try a frankensteinian pandan-infused-unicorn-frappucino-esque drink/food item that will surely be created somewhere in the world by some wacky, hypetrain-chasing dude. On the flipside however, I'm pretty curious to see and learn about all the novel ways in which other cultures will try and use pandan to their foods! So yeah, a pretty mixed bag of feelings there. Ah well, time will tell.
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For now, (and I'm not jumping on the bandwagon at all here :P), here’s a short recipe on a traditional Malaysian breakfast staple - pandan kaya, a.k.a. Malaysian-coconut-milk-plus-egg-custard-sauce-jam-spread-thing. It has a texture akin to a thick, gloopy English custard, but instead of having it with pudding, we have it on toast for breakfast. It’s mouth-coatingly rich, and just as you start to think it might be too sweet, the savoury tang of the coconut milk comes through and makes you wanna down all of the kaya like you would a tub of Nutella .
I also hacked this recipe a bit by blending the pandan into the mix right at the beginning just to simplify things and give you that nice green hue! (This is sure to elicit may tut-tuts from all the kaya-making mak ciks out there though, so don't let them in on this, heh.)
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2 egg yolk
200g coconut milk
4 pandan leaves (or 5-10g of pandan extract)
150g fine caster sugar
- Blend the pandan leaves with the eggs, egg yolk, and coconut milk until smooth. Then, sift the mixture to remove those fibrous strands of pandan. If you're using pandan extract, ignore this step and just add the extract to the eggs and coconut milk and stir well.
- Prepare a bain marie/water bath on medium heat (~80°C), pour the liquid into a bowl on the bain marie, and add the sugar and salt.
- Now here’s where your patience will be tested. With a spatula, stir the mixture until it turns thick and custardy. This will take around 30 minutes, if not longer. At first, it may not look like much is happening, but keep stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl to make sure the egg doesn’t curdle, I promise you it'll thicken up with time!
- When your kaya reaches a custard-like consistency, remove from the bain marie and let cool. If there are large lumps in the kaya, you can pass it through a sieve and give it a whisk, which should hopefully smoothen it out! If that doesn't work, you can blend it (add some water if it's too thick to blend, and then cook it further to get to the desired consistency).
- Have on toast with a thick wad of butter for a truly Malaysian breakfast!