- Pandan's sweetness is commonly said to evoke the scent of vanilla, though it has also been compared to coconut and lemongrass
- Although it is mostly used for flavour in cooking, it is also said to have health benefits
- When the leaves are simmered in hot water for 10 minutes and then cooled, the resulting tea purportedly relieves the pain associated with arthritis, headache, earache and chest pain, as well as alleviating fever symptoms
The pandan leaf was quietly lending colour and punch to a number of dishes in Asian restaurants and bakeries in the UK before Nigella Lawson crowned it the next big ingredient, but as Food Spark has already pointed out, Nigella may be onto something with this vibrant green wonder.
A multitasker in the flavour stakes, pandan works in both sweet and savoury meals. The leaf imbues cakes, pastries and ice creams with depth, but is equally at home in spiced dishes like Indian curries or Malay rice dish nasi lemak. It can be employed as a marinade for meat or as a wrap for fish destined for the barbecue.
Those wishing to make the most of its vivid hue and fragrance will need to blend the leaves to a paste with water, though it can just be added while cooking if used primarily for aroma.
You'll currently find pandan lending sweetness and colour to Chinatown Bakery's swirly green pandan Swiss roll and Soho Sri Lankan restaurant Hoppers' pandan jelly. With its clear flavour and colour credentials, expect to see the tropical plant pop up in more places as the trend takes hold.
Saiphin Moore, founder of Rosa's Thai Cafe, London: “Pandan leaves are used in the marinade for our chicken satay – a succulent marinated chicken breast, skewered and chargrilled and served with our home-made peanut sauce. I roughly chop the pandan leaves, before blending them into a rough paste alongside the rest of the marinade ingredients. The leaves are often used with chicken because it gives the meat a mildly fragrant and distinctive floral scent similar to lemongrass, but without the citrus-y aroma. Once grilled, the chicken breast becomes very fragrant, and the smell reminds me of Thailand. The pandan also perfectly complements the lemongrass, galangal and curry powder in the satay sauce; plus, it's from my mum's recipe and I absolutely love it!”
Anjula Devi, Indian chef and author: “I use pandan leaves in a vegetable biryani for their unique, nutty sweetness. The leaves also have a slight hint of coconut with a grassy, tangy taste which works really well with the vegetables in the biryani. There are two ways you can use the pandan: either tie the pandan leaf into a knot and throw it whole into the dish (just remove before serving), or chop the leaves finely and place in a blender with a little water to create a smooth purée. This can then be put passed through a sieve to create a much stronger flavour. It will also give most of your food a green colour if you use this method.”
Ellen Chew, owner of Rasa Sayang, Chinatown, London: “One of our most popular desserts here at Rasa Sayang is the kueh dadar. It's a dessert commonly found in Singapore and Malaysia that is of Nyonya (Straits Chinese) origins. Kueh dadar is basically a dish that consists of grated coconut cooked in gula Melaka (Malaccan palm sugar) and pandan leaves, wrapped in a pandan pancake. The intense pandan flavour in the pancake comes from blending pandan leaves and juicing the pulp dry before incorporating it into a mix of flour, eggs, coconut milk and salt. The filling is created by melting cubes of gula Melaka in simmering water with a pinch of salt and a generous portion of pandan leaves. When the gula Melaka melts, we remove the pandan leaves, add the grated coconut and continue to cook until the mixture is completely incorporated into the coconut.”