Although very different in flavor, this herb is sometimes called the “vanilla of Southeast Asia,” since it is used as an aromatic in sweets, much as we use vanilla. Pandan supplies the brilliant green color found in many Southeast Asian sweets. It’s ground, and its juice is extracted and added to doughs, custards, sticky rice, and other sweet treats. When used in savory dishes, the long, slender pandan leaves are left whole, usually tied into a loose knot, and bruised with a blunt object to extract the maximum flavor. It is added to rice, imbuing it with a mysterious herbal nuance. Also, the long leaves are tied around marinated pieces of chicken, which are then deep fried. The leaves are peeled and discarded before the chicken is served. In the West, it isn’t easy to find fresh, but it freezes well and is available in that form. If you do find it fresh, buy a lot, wrap it well, and freeze it for later use—it will be more aromatic than frozen imported pandan.
Thai: bai toey; Vietnamese: lá dứa; Malay: daun pandan; Tamil: rampe
© 2008 Robert Danhi. All rights reserved.