HOW TO COOK WITH PANDAN, THE VANILLA OF SOUTHEAST ASIA
For the uninitiated, tasting pandan for the first time is like learning a word for an emotion you’ve always struggled to describe. Floral like vanilla but with a grassy lilt and a tropical bouquet that verges on coconut plus a distinct note of…is that bubblegum?, pandan (also called screwpine leaf) is an ingredient worth getting to know. In Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and beyond, it’s as common a flavoring as vanilla is in the West, and despite the plant’s beguiling appearance—tough leaves that look more like leek greens than dessert fodder—it’s one of the most versatile tools in a cook’s pantry. How to use pandan? Let us count the ways.
Where to Get Proper Pandan
But first, a note on where to find the stuff in the first place. If you live near a Thai, Vietnamese, or other Southeast Asian grocery, you’re in luck. Pandan’s a common find, in the freezer aisle at least if it’s not available fresh. Because the greens are so hearty, they hold up well to freezing if wrapped tightly in plastic with minimal air exposure and can be stored in the freezer for weeks or even months. To buy fresh pandan leaves online, check out the selection at Import Food; Fil Stop sells frozen pandan leaves online. Just be sure to avoid pandan extracts and pastes in cans and droppers—they’re low quality substitutes that lack all the fresh brilliance of the real thing.
Make Pandan Water
At countless Thai restaurants, including Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok in Oregon and New York, the water sent to your table is kissed with the scent of pandan for a refreshing drink. To make it, bring 4 cups of water to a boil, remove from heat, then add 3 to 4 pandan leaves. Let rest, tasting every few minutes to determine your ideal concentration, then strain and chill. 5 to 10 minutes should do it.
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