Sunday, April 09, 2006

Pandaning To the Masses - WHB#27

You cannot claim to be a true Peranakan if you do not like pulut hitam or bubur hitam, depending on which country you come from. I’ve always loved pulut hitam and it was the dessert of choice served at home.

Making it is so easy that I’ve always wondered why the hawker centre and food court versions are so pathetic. Watery, starchy or overly-sweet, the insipid pulut hitam served at these places seldom satisfy my black glutinous rice craving.

Recently I saw Brendon at
Something in Season call it Forbidden Rice. I’m not sure where that came from as I’ve never heard it called that. At home, it was always just pulut hitam and my grandmother used to import ours all the way from Melaka. In fact, to this day, I still have a preference for the inky grains from Melaka. Unfortunately, I have not found these in Singapore so I just make do with the ordinary versions here.

But today’s star for this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging is actually not these deeply regal, deep purple grains but the emerald sheafs of fragrant grass that flavour the pulut hitam – daun pandan aka pandan leaves or screwpine leaves. The Sinhalese call it rampe, the Thais bai toey, but to us, it was always daun pandan. But call it what you want, the pandan evokes strong responses from everyone.

The pandan plant is like a politician. There are those who swear by them and those who detest them. There is seldom a lukewarm reaction to this strong-smelling plant. Even its Latin name, pandanus odorus, gives you a hint of its distinguishing feature.

This extremely hardy plant has long, broad, flat, fibrous and spikey-looking leaves which comes armed with prickles, hooks and spines – as if the smell itself is not weapon enough! Besides being a flavouring agent in food, the pandan leaves are used in the home by the Malays and Indonesians. You’d find it woven into mats, used as brushes, twisted into ropes and tied into bundles as natural air fresheners. However, the last attribute is debatable. A Scottish colleague gasped “What a pong!” and had to be let out of the taxi in a wheezing fit because of the overpowering scent of the pandan leaves the taxi driver had placed in his car as an air freshener.

Some species of the pandan plant apparently has edible fruits and it is used even in Australia where the aborigines are said to harvest the seeds to roast and consume as food.

The leaves of the young pandan plant are the ones which are normally used in the kitchen though. Being more tender and delicate, which is really not saying a lot, the leaves are used to impart a distinctive aromatic flavour and a light green colour to cakes, soups, curries and just almost every type of food there is. Some have likened it to vanilla but I think that is an inadequate comparison. The pandan leaf has an aroma and flavour all of its own. There is no substitute for this unique leaf.

I’m very lucky to have a wet market nearby which allows me to buy the entire plant but the pandan leaves are easily available in the supermarkets nowadays all nicely cut into strips and packaged into neat little packets. However, a little goes a long way so whenever I buy pandan leaves, you would see me trying to find all ways to use it up as soon as possible before it stinks up my whole fridge! Thus far I’ve used it in my
Rice Cooker Chicken Rice. I had a whole lot more of pandaning to go.

I decided to make a huge pot of pulut hitam as I wanted to give most of it to 3A and 3A Hubby to thank them for taking such good care of me since I have been ill. I knew that 3A Hubby in particular would be delighted, being a Peranakan.

I typically do not measure when I cook pulut hitam, in true Asian fashion, so please bear with me. Essentially, the technique is to sweeten to taste and keep stirring and checking and all will be well.

Pulut Hitam

2 cups of pulut hitam aka black glutinous rice

About 1 -1 ½ inch disc of gula melaka aka palm sugar – use the dark brown type or you can substitute with jaggery or brown sugar
About 2 tbsp rock sugar – you can substitute with castor sugar
3 stalks of pandan leaves
1 tbsp cornstarch
Santen aka coconut cream

1. Wash your pulut hitam to get rid of any grit and dirt

2. Add enough water to cover the rice up such that the water level is about 1 inch above the rice and leave to soak overnight. You do this so that the rice would cook faster, the grain would puff up and burst their skin easier to release the starchiness

3. Clean your pandan leaves and knot them together. Do not crush them as they will be too overpowering otherwise

4. Place the pandan leaves bundle into the pot and bring it to boil

5. When the pulut hitam is boiling, stir and bring it to a simmer

6. From this point onwards, you will keep adding water and stirring to ensure the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot. Do not be lazy and try to add a whopping amount of water to speed things along. Add just enough water each time to cover it to about 1 - 2 inches above the rice level. You want the rice to be a fairly thick porridge at all time

7. Once half the grains appear to be busting out of their skins, add the gula melaka and rock sugar. Taste and if it is too sweet, add more water. If too bland, add more sugar then! *Tut, tut …* Anyway, the blend of the two sugars is to give it a smokey, nutty taste from the gula melaka and a “purer”, lighter sweetness from the rock sugar. It’s all about balance, baby.

8. Keep on cooking till it is almost gruel-like and remove the pandan leaves bundle

9. Blend the cornstarch with some warm water to make a thin paste and add this to the pot. Stir to mix well. This is to thicken the pulut hitam to a creamy consistency but if you had soaked your rice overnight you do not need a lot of cornstarch for this. An inferior pulut hitam has a lot of cornstarch in it. If you add too much cornstarch to yours and claim you learnt it from me, I will have to hunt you down and hurt you

10. Serve hot with a drizzle of coconut cream on top. Add as much as you like … I usually flood mine with coconut cream

There you have it. So simple yet so delicious and comforting. Excellent after a long, bad week.

And now I have to go “hand this up” to WHB schoolmistress, Kalyn, before I go out to dinner.



Blogger fooDcrazEE said...

what great picture u have......makes me crave for the pulut now....mati gue

8:46 pm  
Blogger Marilyn said...

That looks delicious! Love the coconut cream design in your last photo-very artistique :-)

9:54 pm  
Blogger Kalyn said...

You are just brilliant. This is something I must taste when I come to visit you. I think I might have had black glutinous rice (could it be made into something called black "sticky rice" in a Thai restaurant?) but I know I haven't tasted or smelled pandan leaves.

Sounds like you are feeling better. Glad to hear it. Life is very good here.

10:18 pm  
Anonymous mumu said...

Excellent post! I do have a question about pandan leaves though. Many or most times the pandan leaves available at supermarkets no longer "smell". I mean, they really just smell like grass. Does this mean I shouldn't be buying them because they have "lost" their fragrance from being out there for too long?

10:23 am  
Blogger hinata said...

Love the coconut cream artwork and the sexy pandan photos! I can't imagine anyone not liking the smell of pandan, it really is gorgeous - was your Scottish colleague having a bad day? :)

11:39 am  
Blogger 3A Gurl said...

let you know when we next meander up to Malacca - will buy inky rice for you, and of course beh teh sor for myself. can't find decent ones here, let alone Melbourne. all that neighing for so long...

2:49 pm  
Anonymous Karin said...

That looks amazing - so different from anything I've ever had! I wish I could try it. Thanks for a very interesting post!

3:05 pm  
Anonymous bea at La Tartine Gourmande said...

SO nice to hear about things I had never heard about before! Great info and looking desserts. You inspired me to try this area that I do not know at all!

8:11 pm  
Blogger karina said...

How exotic [for me, anyway!] and what a beautiful presentation. Lovely.

8:52 pm  
Anonymous paz said...

I only recently learned about the "Forbidden Rice." Very interesting taste.

I've learned about a new plant today -- Pandan plant!


12:20 am  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

I have tasted rice scented with pandan here in San Francisco. I think it's fabulous, not at all stinky. I believe it's similar to lotus leaves in flavor.
Funnier still, I have a pandan mat that we leave on the patio in nice weather, but once in a while it gets rained on. OMG, what a terrific aroma!

1:58 am  
Blogger a said...

Hi MM,

It looks like very similar to our "CHAMPORADO" made with glutinous sweet rice, with cocoa powder, sugar and milk- I posted mine like 2 weeks ago when I received package from our fellow bloggers and a friend- check my blog sometimes and yeah I'm one of the fanatic lover of this kind of rice...

Take care!


3:41 am  
Blogger Saffron said...

lovely post! with lovely pictures!

I remember seeing small pandan boxes in the stores in Malaysia and Singapore filled with candies and cakes? is that the same leaf?


10:37 am  
Blogger MM said...

Wow, thanks for the comments guys!

Foodcrazee - I tell you what. You bring your lemak seafood and I bring the pulut hitam with a can of Ayam coconut cream. We meet somewhere in between and devour the food.

Marilyn - Thanks so much for visiting & commenting. I try, I try ...

Kalyn - Aw, thanks! I have never had this black sticky rice and I eat Thai fodo quite often! I suspect it might be the same thing.

And so glad to hear your news!

Mumu - Thanks! You know, I have seen the newly prepared ones at the supermarket and I think they would work well when you use them for things like ketupat because you will nto want them to be too overpowering. However, I do think because they have been cut off from the root, they do lose their fragrance a little.

To revive them, you might want to crush them or tear them into thinner strips in order to release the "fresh" aroma. That is if you are using them to flavour your food and do not need to preserve their shape. If possible buy the pandan leaves which still are attached to the root though.

Hinata - Thanks so much! Sexy eh? LOL. I don't think Kevin was having a bad day but he was not the only one who hated the smell. My ex boss was English and he choked once in a taxi with pandan leaves too!

3A - Thanks so much! What are beh teh sor actually?

Karin - You're welcome and thanks so much for visiting & commenting!

Bea- Aw, thanks so much! Glad I inspired you as you inspire me all the time! I just love your recipes and photos. Honestly, I love how creative you are!

Karina - Thanks! Glad you found some time from your move to visit! Hope everything is going smoothly for you.

Paz - isn't it? I love pulut hitam because it had a texture that is just so different.

Cookie - I don't know if it taste like lotus leaves at all! How funny that you think so as I think they are so different! I love lotus leaves too especialyl when wrapped around white glutinous rice with Chinese sausages and lotus and mushrooms and ... yums!

Tin - you are so right! It does look like your champorado but I think pulut hitam has been around way longer and may in fact have been the inspiration for champorado!

Saffron - Wow! Thanks for visiting - I am so honoured! And yes, I think you may be right as we do make weave them into boxes as well to put little sweets and even as a vessel for desserts.

2:22 pm  
Blogger sailu said...

Wow,MM,excellent post with some great info on Pandan plant.Absolutely a learning experience..
Wonderful presentation too!

7:17 pm  
Anonymous Stevi said...

this looks fantastic and so exotic to me. I am not even sure i can find the ingredients in Greece but i will certainly try.

5:12 am  
Anonymous Ivonne said...

What a wonderful post, MM!

I love learning about new ingredients ... well done!

11:16 am  
Blogger stacey said...

well done. That looks amazing!

12:32 pm  
Blogger barbie2be said...

the call that forbidden rice at whole foods too. at least at my whole foods. but it is delicious.

1:43 pm  
Blogger Gourmetish said...

Wow. That is really pretty and looks like it tastes great too. Btw, Forbidden Rice is just the brand name that carries various "exotic" rices like the black rice.

4:19 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Thanks Sailu!

Stevi - Thanks so much for visiting and your kind words. I hope you do get to try it one day. Did I tell you I adore Greek food???

Thanks so much Ivonne and Stacey!

Barbie & Kady - Ah, now I see. So the brand name is Forbidden Rice but they still call it black glutinous rice. Now I get it. I was so mystified too!

5:39 pm  
Blogger Karen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:43 am  
Anonymous Karen said...

Wonderful! I can almost smell the aroma from the pictures alone.

If you can buy a whole pandan plant and if it has roots, it can be repotted. That's how I had a potted pandan before moving to an apartment with a garden.

The Filipino champorado is an adaptation of the Mexican champurrado which uses cornmeal and chocolate. Pulut hitam is more reminiscent of other sweet gruel dishes like lelut.

4:46 am  
Blogger MM said...

Hey Karen, that makes sense that you can repot it! But I am such an abysmal gardener that I bet it would die within the day under my purple thumb!

You know cornmeal and chocolate sounds like it should be a bad combination somehow but yet it makes sense too. I wish I knew more about Mexican food though. What lelut by the way?

7:16 pm  
Anonymous Karen said...

Hee hee! Pandan is very low maintenance. Leave it on a pot outside, pretty soon it should have colonised everything. :)

Lelut is generic for rice gruel, either sweet or savoury. Rice and chicken, rice and fish, rice and mung beans, etc., etc. Sweet dishes almost always include coconut milk in the ingredients.

4:57 am  

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