as promised, this is an educational post on the wonders that is that rather verdant green liquid you see in the bowl up there. for most asians, we’ve grown up with this flavour that makes it way across into our drinks, desserts, cakes, cookies and all sorts of goodies. it goes especially well with coconut flavours and the mild not-too-sweet desserts we favour in this part of the world and can be used in a few ways, though the two most popular are
- either to blitz fresh leaves into a sort of pesto-like mass that you squeeze in muslin (the method here) to extract a green liquid as flavouring and colouring,
- or to boil the leaves when cooking soupy desserts to impart a slight fragrance and not the colour.
pandan (or pandanus) leaves are also known as screwpine leaves, and are so common in asia that vegetable grocers usually give a bunch to you free with your purchase of a sufficient amount of vegetables (heads up: they also do this with chillis and sprig onions so try and get your freebies if you can!). if in london, see woo or any of the supermarkets in chinatown with a chiller for vegetables will probably sell this, but be sure to use it quickly as their vegetables often spoil unusually quickly.
there is a herbaceous quality to this leaf that is difficult to explain, and it renders itself in a sort of distinctive fragrance, especially in sweet desserts. don’t worry if when blending the leaves that it smells almost grassy – it is a leaf, and it really does smell gorgeous in a chiffon cake with coconut milk (recipe soon to follow).
for now, here’s how to make the pandan juice. this makes enough for about two tablespoons of juice, just about enough for a small chiffon cake. you can also source for pandan extracts/essences in specialty bake shops with an asian bend, which are usually used to complement this juice or to replace it. but those are more difficult to find, and I tend to prefer my cakes as natural as I can make them. I recommend using this juice as soon as possible, to keep it fresh, the flavours clean and the colour as vibrant as possible. stay tuned for the cake recipe!
20-25 pandan leaves
2 tbsp water
- wash the long leaves thoroughly. pandan leaves grow in damper fertile soil which cling heavily to the leaves and you don’t want sand in your cake!
- cut the long leaves into smaller pieces, about 2 centimetres long. just make sure they can fit into your blender. throw a small handful into your blender with all the water, and blitz to blend. as the pieces become smaller, throw more into the blender. I find it easier to blend when there is a larger volume in the blender, but it really all depends on your machine.
- when the pieces are as small (and as much of a paste) as you can get them, prepare a clean muslin cloth (or steal your partner’s/father’s thin handkerchief) over a bowl, and throw the blended leaves into the cloth. wrap it all up into a ball, and wring the juice out. squeeze tight! and there you have your pandan juice.