Sago gula melaka--simple, inexpensive but super yummy
This is my favorite Malaysian dessert! There's no pretense in this number at all--just four inexpensive ingredients simply boiled and served. The combination of cold, smooth, springy sago pearls (albeit tasteless), the sweet and scented gula melaka (palm sugar) and the fragrant creamy santan (coconut milk) works so well I often tell my kids "This is my death row dessert." This dessert is especially refreshing after a BBQ. It just washes the char and heatiness off your palate.
Sarawak, that other Malaysian state in Borneo, is probably the largest producer of sago. It takes 10 years for the sago palm to grow until it can be fell. The stuff in the trunks are dried and processed into sago flour, then into sago pearls for the market. The natives of Sarawak however, eat their sago differently. The flour is cooked into a glue in a large pot and you dip a stick in and twirl it around to get as much glue as you want, and then you just slurp on it. It tastes good. At least that's how the people on TV wants us to think, because I haven't seen or tasted sago paste. And frankly most of this information is regurgitated to you because I've been going through history/geography books with my son for his exam this Friday...and oh, Wey wants to tell you he'd like to try sago worms if any of you can get it for him. Yup, big fat chubby sago worms are a delicacy among some natives of Sarawak (yay, natives in Sabah only eat rotten meat stuffed in bamboo tubes!).
I just googled and found out that the sago palm is that ornamental palm that most of us grow! And if that is so, maybe I should've harvested those worms or whatever that attacked my plant and made a meal out of them instead of cutting the plant down.
Sago Gula Melaka
1 cup small sago pearls (pick through but do not wash)
5 cups water
4 pieces pandan leaves*
200g gula melaka**, chopped into small pieces
1 coconut, shaved/grated
a pinch of salt (optional)
1. Put water and pandan leaves into a pot and boil 10 minutes so the pandan flavor comes out. (You can omit the leaves if you prefer the sago to stay transparent-white. The leaves taint the sago slightly yellow). Remove the leaves. Throw in the sago pearls, stirring well so they don't clump. Let it simmer 10 minutes, stirring all the time. The pearls will turn transparent but there will still be a dot of white in the middle. If you continue cooking till it all turns transparent, most of the pearls will just become glue. So turn off the heat, put the lid on and leave 10 minutes.
2. The pearls will have all turned tranparent. If not, heat through but not boil, turn off heat and let it sit, covered, for two minutes. Bring pot to the sink, add lots of tap water to the hot sago in the pot and stir so that the sago pearls separate. Pour the sago through a metal sieve over the sink and stir with a spoon so that the glue will run through the sieve, leaving just the sago pearls. Rinse enough individual moulds or glasses or a big bowl (more convenient if you are serving it to a large group) and scoop sago pearls in. The rinsing is to wet the moulds so that it would be easier to turn the sago out. If you like the sago chewy and compact, drain off as much water as you can but if you like a softer pudding, which I do, do not drain till the last drop of glue. Let sago cool in the glasses, then chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours until very cold.
3. Meantime, put the gula melaka and about 4 T water in a small pot over low fire to melt the sugar. Do not stir, just let the sugar thicken into a thin syrup. Yummy sugary-coconuty smell! Let it cool; it will thicken slightly. If you let it cook until it is thick, the gula will become hard upon cooling.
4. Add 1 cup water to the grated coconut, 'massage' the coconut well to release the milk (yup, you read me) and squeeze out the santan. Strain santan into a small pot and let it heat through but not boil. I actually prefer not to heat through because I prefer the raw taste of coconut milk which is stronger and tastier. Just make sure everything is super hygenic and that you have a strong stomach if you don't heat through. Add salt if like but I don't because fresh, authentic coconut milk has a sweet and slightly saltish taste. The most important ingredient for this dessert is the santan, which MUST be thick and fresh.
5. Serve chilled sago pudding with the gula melaka syrup and lots and lots of santan. There's only a little santan in my photo above because I had spilled it.
* common flavoring ingredient used in most South East Asian desserts.
**raw brown sugar made from coconut palm.