Pandan (Pandanus amaryllifolius) has long been a staple in tropical food gardens in South and South East Asia. Its leaves impart a unique aroma and flavour to drinks, rice, cakes and desserts. As with all garden produce, the quality of freshly picked pandan surpasses that of the dried or the frozen equivalent. Fortunately, pandan is easy to grow in a subtropical or tropical climate, they make an attractive display, it is easy to propagate and to maintain in a kitchen garden.
Fresh pandan leaves are as aromatic as they are flavoursome. The easiest way to try your first pandan is putting a few leaves into rice. Pandan rice usually found in Indonesian restaurants.
The first tip to using home grown pandan is the most flavoursome leaves for cooking are not the youngest, but the fully mature ones. The base of each leaf is a creamy colour. These taste bitter, so snip them off with scissors. Now all you need do it cut the leaves into lengths that fit in your saucepan. Leaves are often folded and tied into bundles to make them easy to remove before serving.
Many recipes require either fresh pandan juice or pandan paste. Since pandan juice is mostly water, it’s convenient for flavouring drinks and puddings. Pandan paste is much thicker, it’s a puree, so it’s mostly leaf with little water. Pandan paste is best for ice-cream, baking and recipes that require small amounts of added liquids.
Make pandan juice
You will need water, pandan leaves, a blender, a sieve (or muslin cloth), a pair of scissors, and a tall glass or jar.
* Pick twenty leaves;
* Remove the creamy white bases;
* Wash leaves the leaves;
* Snip leaves into sections 1-2cm long and put into a blender;
* Add 400ml water and blend very thoroughly (about a minute);
* Pour liquid through a sieve or muslin cloth, pressing the liquid out of the puree using the back of a spoon;
* The filtered liquid is pandan juice.
Make pandan paste
* Pour freshly made pandan juice into a tall glass or bottle;
* Seal, and place somewhere inside the fridge where the juice won’t be disturbed (eg not inside the door);
* Store for three or four days, during which time the pandan paste settles out of suspension to rest on the bottom of the glass, leaving pandan juice as the liquid above;
* To separate the two, gradually and gently pour off the pandan juice;
This leaves pandan paste which, if not used immediately, should be returned to the fridge and used within a week. From twenty leaves and 400ml water, expect to produce around 50ml richly flavoured pandan paste.
Some cooks prefer to use coconut milk in recipes instead of water, just don’t try to turn this into a shortcut: blending pandan leaves with coconut milk makes filtering almost impossible. Make the paste first, then add it to the coconut milk.
Avoid freezing pandan juice or paste; this discolours the product and they lose the all important aroma.
Apart from flavouring drinks and rice, another dead easy use for pandan juice is to flavour sago pudding or a steamed sponge pudding.
The easiest use for pandan paste is in combination with finely chopped lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and tamarind juice for making chicken or fish curry.
In the garden
Pandan (Pandanus amaryllifolius) is a bit of a mystery. Just like corn on the cob, what we grow has been shaped by cultivation to suit human needs. You won’t find wild corn producing cobs, nor will you find wild pandan producing seed. Pandan has been cultivated since antiquity and in the process it has lost the capacity to reproduce by seed. Whenever someone locates a rare ‘wild’ population they usually turn out to be garden escapes so where it originated from is still uncertain, although the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, indicate the point of origin may be the Maluku Islands of Indonesia.
Pandan forms low, wide clumps and plants have shallow root systems. If you intend to grow them in containers, a bowl is preferable to a conventional pot;
Repot each spring and feed once with a slow release fertiliser in late spring to early summer;
Pandan is not drought tolerant. Stand pots in a saucer or tray and keep this topped up with water – a depth of 1cm is sufficient;
Take stem cuttings in summer. Pandan side shoots often produce stilt roots, so cuttings are ready to grow in a new location;
Position pandan somewhere sunny and sheltered, and protect them from western sunshine which can burn the leaves. Often, you will see pandan planted in soil in tropical shadehouses where irrigation water drips down and runoff is channelled around them to keep the soil wet.
In my subtropical garden, cold winter nights and wintry winds can burn their foliage, so growing them in containers gives the added advantage of portability. I have lost plants to -0.5C frost, so now when a cold snap if forecast, I can temporarily move them into shelter.
4th July 2019