Cakes, deserts, rice, fish, meat, drinks, if you have ever visited this part of South East Asia (Singapore and Malaysia) or live/lived here for any length of time and are not familiar with pandan you must surely have been hiding under a rock.
Pandan to those who don’t know (seriously only those who are completely uninitiated with this part of the world should admit this!) is a popular ingredient commonly used in local dishes.
The “Screw Pine” plant or the “Pandan” as it is known in these parts, has leaves that are long and pointed and there are two main ways that they are used in cooking.
The first method is the infusion method where leaves are used “as is” by for example wrapping around meat or tied in small bundles and added to sauces to impart their flavour during the cooking process. The second way is to extract the juice from the fibrous leaves to use as a flavouring in savoury but especially sweet dishes such as cakes and jellies and kuey where it is not always possible to remove the leaves afterwards.
Like vanilla, a synthetic pandan flavouring is widely available in most supermarkets across Asia but the taste in my opinion is not comparable to the real thing. Luckily for us unlike vanilla (pods) the leaves are relatively inexpensive to buy and/or easy to cultivate in our tropical climate, so why not make your own pandan juice or extract?
Especially when I tell you and show you below just how easy it is to do. There really is little excuse to buy the fake stuff (although I feel the need to confess that I do have a mini bottle in my baking drawer for emergencies when dear Mr Lip just has to have home made pandan chiffon cake “yesterday” and even the 15 minutes it takes to make the juice is too much of a delay – mind you, he makes the cake himself so I don’t complain).
1. Using a pair of scissors, cut off at the base of the leaves, approximately 20 mature leaves from your plant.
2. Top and tail the leaves (the light coloured base can be a little bitter and the pointed end has tiny thorns).
3. Wash the leaves by rinsing each one individually and making sure you open up the fold at the base to rinse inside. Shake off any excess water (there is no need to dry them).
4. Using scissors again, snip the leaves into smaller pieces. You can do this straight into a blender (If you have muscles you can use a pestle and mortar, but I don’t posses much in the way of those so I would probably have to double my leaves to get the same quantity of pandan using this method – and lets face it, its hard work which I am adverse!)
5. Add 3 tablespoons of room temperature water in with the leaves.
6. Blend for 1-2 minutes.
7. Over a bowl, empty out the mixture into a fine mesh strainer and using the back of a spoon, squeeze out as much of the liquid out as possible (or you can use a muslin and squeeze with your fingers).
That’s it, your natural and fresh pandan juice, ready to use immediately.
If you are after a more concentrated pandan extract rather than juice, cover the pandan juice with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 24-36 hours. The pandan will sink to the bottom and the water will separate out at the top. Pour the water off and what’s left behind is pandan extract. You may find that you will need this for a stronger flavour or if excess water is undesirable to the success of your dish.
Pandan juice and extract will keep well when covered with plastic wrap in the fridge for approx 3-5 days.
For the gardeners amongst you, remember that you can put the trimmings and left over pulp into your compost. Don’t waste a thing!
Image credit: Anna Hui