One of my favourite desserts is kueh, a whole genre of little cakes and confections found in the indigenous cuisines of Southeast Asia. Called kueh, or kuih, it is an integral part of Indonesian, Malay and Peranakan culinary culture. You’ll also find renditions of that genre in Thailand. There hundreds of different kinds of kueh in these parts, and with regional differences. These bite-sized morsels are mostly sweet, and eaten as a snack, as breakfast or as a dessert, though honestly the course-by-course concept of the meal where dessert comes last is really a foreign import as far as Asian cuisines are concerned.
I am always fascinated with kueh, and not just in the eating, but because every jewel-toned morsel is a mark of the creative genius of local women over the centuries. This is because this vast array of kueh primarily revolve around a very small pantry of very humble ingredients such as coconut flesh and milk, sugar, tapioca, sweet potato, mung beans, bananas, sago, pandan, glutinous rice. All these would have been easily available in the kampong or village gardens, within arm’s length of front doors. But the stunning variety of flavours, textures, colours these housewives of old came up with is pure genius.
Anyways, back to the kueh. One of my favourites is kueh salat, a double-decker delight comprising glutinous rice on the bottom and a lovely, softly gelatinous pandan-coconut kaya layer on top. I always wanted to try making it as I have pandan leaves growing like a weed in my backyard, and I had picked some butterfly pea flowers while jogging this morning. This is my first try, and it was a success. It’s so easy to make, I won’t ever have to buy kueh salat again.
Pandan Layer 8 pandan (screwpine) leaves, cut into 6cm pieces (or use pandan extract if the leaves aren’t available, but there’s nothing like the actual thing) 100 ml water 200 ml coconut milk 3 eggs 5 Tbsp flour 2 Tbsp cornstarch 190g sugar Rice Layer 300g glutinous rice, soaked in water for 1 hour 70 ml water 130 ml coconut cream 1/2 tsp salt 2-3 pandan leaves, washed 20-30 butterfly pea flowers, washed (optional)* Method Note: This kueh is never served chilled but at room temperature when it is quite soft and pliable. You can store it covered in the fridge for up to 3 days. The rice layer tends to dry up a little in the fridge but I zap it in the microwave for a bit before eating, and that does the trick. *Butterfly pea flowers have been traditionally used as a natural blue colouring in Southeast Asia. Crush 20-30 blooms and infuse it in 1-2 Tbsp water. When the rice layer is cooked, sprinkle some of it randomly onto the rice before adding the pandan layer. You do not have to use all of the colouring. Store the excess in a sealed container in the fridge – it should last a few days.
100 ml water
200 ml coconut milk
5 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp cornstarch
300g glutinous rice, soaked in water for 1 hour
70 ml water
130 ml coconut cream
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 pandan leaves, washed
20-30 butterfly pea flowers, washed (optional)*