Growing up in Singapore, one of my favorite easy to make desserts was sago pudding with coconut milk and gula melaka syrup (also known as coconut palm sugar). Sago pudding basically requires sago pearls (which are similar to tapioca pearls but made from palm trees). These tiny pearls were boiled until cooked, drained and then kept in the fridge in molds overnight to set. We’d un-mold the cold sago the next day, pour copious amounts of coconut milk and gula melaka syrup and enjoy this cold tasty treat to help combat the tropical heat.
I had wanted to make this recipe the other day as our temperatures were soaring into the high 90s Fahrenheit but realized I didn’t have any sago pearls on hand. I decided to try this out with rice instead and was blown away by just how satisfying this was. The key to this dessert is smoky, dark richness of the gula melaka or coconut palm sugar that is used to make the syrup for this dish. If you can’t find coconut palm sugar, you can substitute this for dark brown sugar.
This is one of the easiest desserts you can make since it really requires just a handful of pantry ingredients. Best of all, you can add your favorite fruit and nuts to the pudding if you’d like. Back home, we’d eat our sago pudding by itself or with sliced mangoes. I just happened to have figs at home and added some pumpkin seeds for a bit of crunch.
WHAT IS GULA MELAKA ?
Gula Melaka (literally meaning sugar Malacca) is a sweetener made from the sap collected from immature coconut palm trees (specifically flower stalks). The sap or liquid is then boiled down in a large vessel over flames and reduced to a thick syrup. This thick syrup is poured into bamboo molds and allowed to harden. In South East Asia, you can find gula Melaka in the form of small cakes that have been un-molded. These tend to be quite hard and often times I find it difficult to cut unless you have a very sharp knife. On a recent trip to Whole Foods I did actually find a bottle of coconut palm sugar in powder form and decided to give that a try. With a texture similar to brown sugar, the powdered form of gula Melaka tasted exactly like the block form and much easier to use. If you’re looking for coconut palm sugar and only find the granulated form, definitely give it a try. Apart from this recipe, I use coconut palm sugar as a sugar substitute. It has a low glycemic index and adds a delicious smoky caramel flavor to anything you add to it.
WHAT ARE PANDAN LEAVES?
Pandan leaves (also known as screw pine leaves) are herbaceous leaves that grow in South East Asia that is used in both savory and sweet dishes. The leaves have hints of vanilla and rose and are a perfect match when paired with coconut milk. You can find these either fresh or frozen at most local asian supermarkets or you can get pandan paste, which is a thick pandan concentrate online. If you do use pandan concentrate in anything, keep in mind that it will turn your dish bright green! Using the concentrate is common in desserts in South East Asia where you’ll find bright green desserts, but not so much in savory dishes where fresh or frozen leaves are used.