I've read in a few places that Pandan is to Asia what Vanilla is to the Western world. Since I've never worked with Pandan in the kitchen before, I was a bit confused by this analogy and assumed that there was a less-than-mediocre, one-hit-wonder, wannabe rap artist by the name of "Pandan Ice" running around Asia.
Shay with a gauge and Pandan with a nine.
Turns out I was wrong. Which is a good thing. One Vanilla Ice is more than the world can stand.
Anyhoo, the Pandan/Vanilla comparison actually pertains to the wide use of Pandan in a variety of Southeast Asian dishes. Like vanilla pods, the long green leaves of the Pandan (AKA Screwpine) plant are very fragrant and aromatic. Also similar to vanilla, the unique aroma of pandan leaves is used to flavor many sweets. In the Philippines for example, Pandan is usually paired with coconut in desserts like Buko Pandan salad--a sweet mixture of pandan-perfumed milk, gelatin, and coconut.
However, it should also be noted that Pandan tastes nothing like vanilla. Some say that the aroma and flavor of Pandan is similar to that of coconuts--which is strange considering that the two ingredients are usually paired together. To me though, the flavor of Pandan is wholly unique but tastes kinda banana leafy, sorta grassy, a little bit nutty, and a lot like Jasmine rice--all at the same time. Despite my best efforts at pinning down a flavor description, the taste of Pandan is almost indescribable.
But don't let Pandan's uniqueness discourage you from using it your cooking. Even though it tastes and smells nothing like vanilla, I used some Pandan leaves in much the same way I would use vanilla pods. I steeped the leaves in some warm milk and cream to extract the wonderful Pandan fragrance and flavor--instead of plain ol' vanilla ice cream, I made Pandan ice cream.
To make my Pandan Ice Cream, I just followed David Lebovitz' Vanilla Ice Cream recipe and simply replaced vanilla with Pandan leaves. I took three pandan leaves and tied each leaf into a knot, and then threw the leaves into a pot of warm milk, cream, and sugar and let everything steep for half an hour. Tying the Pandan leaves into knots makes them easier to fish out of the liquid later--otherwise they'd just lay flat against the bottom of the pan.
After churning the ice cream, I sprinkled some Pinipig on the finished dish for some added texture and crunch. Pinipig is a Filipino ingredient that is also used in many desserts. Pinipig look a lot like Rice Krispies, except Pinipig are actually made from rice--glutinous rice that is pounded and sometimes toasted.
I actually first intended to make a Pandan/Pinipig Ice cream with the Pinipig mixed into the ice cream rather than just sprinkled on top. But this was a big mistake. When mixed into the ice cream, the Pinipig lost all of its crunch and actually became quite chewy after a day in the freezer. So it's best to just save the Pinipig for sprinklin' rather than mixin'.
The finished Pandan ice cream was nicely perfumed with the scent of Pandan leaf, but the taste wasn't too overpowering. And because Pandan is the only flavoring in this dish, it's easier to concentrate on its mysterious essence and to try and figure out exactly what it tastes like.
The Pandan Ice Cream recipe I provide below is fairly straightforward, but I do have some other Pandan experiments in the pipe, so stay tuned for those true believers! In the meantime, you should be down with O.P.P.:
O.P.P. (Other People's Pandan):
- Babette has a great use for Pandan in Rice over at Not Just Another Blog.
- Pat at The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook makes a Spicy Ginger Tea with Pandan Syrup
- Oggi of I Can Do That! has recipes for Puto Pandan, Buco, Pandan, and Sago, Buco-Pandan Chiffon Cake, and Pandan Wrapped Chicken.
Pandan Ice Cream
Makes about 1 Quart
1 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
3 Pandan leaves, each tied into a knot (Pandan leaves can be found frozen at Asian markets)
6 large egg yolks
Combine the milk, heavy cream, sugar, salt, and pandan leaves in a medium saucepan. Heat the cream mixture over medium heat until it just begins to simmer, then cover and remove from heat. Allow the mixture to steep at room temperature for 30 minutes.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Temper the eggs by slowly adding the warm cream mixture to the eggs, one ladle at a time, and whisking continuously. When about a third of the cream mixture has been added to the eggs, pour the warmed egg mixture back into the saucepan with the rest of the cream. Continue to cook and whisk over medium-high heat until the mixture reaches 170 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, cook the mixture until it thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon. (You can test for doneness by running your finger across the coated spoon. If your finger leaves a trail on the spoon, then the custard is done. If the trail flows back together, continue to cook the custard until it thickens some more.)
Pour the warmed custard into a large bowl through a fine mesh sieve (this strains out any cooked and scrambled eggy bits). Retrieve the pandan leaves from the sieve and place back into the custard. Place the bowl of custard into an ice bath and stir the custard until cool. When the custard is cool, cover and place in the refrigerator overnight to thoroughly chill.
The next day, remove and discard the pandan leaves from the custard. Pour the cold custard mixture into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Sprinkle individual servings with pinipig if desired.