Just like the banana leaf plays a central role in south Indian cuisine, the pandan leaf is widely used in south-east Asian kitchens. The rough-textured tropical plant, with its long leaves, is mainly used to lend a grassy taste and aroma to sweet and savoury dishes. Though fresh leaves are not easily available in Mumbai, several chefs are experimenting with this ingredient by importing it.
We picked five places that are using the leaf in their dishes in various ways.
Pandan Crêpes, San Qi
If we had to describe these crêpes in one word, we’d say green. Had it not been for the fact that the entire colour is completely natural, this dessert wouldn’t go down well. The faint-emerald crêpes taste fruity, but their flavour is quickly taken over by the sweet mixture of fresh coconut and jaggery inside. Each platter has about four pieces that come dressed with a swirl of coconut cream.
Apart from providing a contrast to the crêpe’s thin skin, the cream adds moisture to each bite, like what chocolate would to a chocolate crêpe. We like the touch of mango sorbet that makes it an ideal dessert inspired by tropical flavours.
Pandan Leaf Soufflé, Hakkasan
Eating the special soufflé at this restaurant is like lying in your mother’s lap. Why? Because it is soft, warm and comforting. The fluffy mug cake is light green in colour and comes with a dusting of powdered sugar. It is served hot with a contrasting cold coconut ice cream whose tropical flavours merge well with the dense soufflé. The dessert is made using a regular combination of flour, butter, egg and sugar and has an airy texture. We dug right till the end and especially enjoyed scraping bits of crusted sugar from the mug’s walls.
Silken Pandan Cake, Nom Nom
The dessert is named so because of its velvety texture. Made using a combination of flour, cream and eggs, the sliced cake is ultra green in colour. It has a sweet taste with a hint of coconut and has deep herb notes that tell you about the presence of the fresh leaf extract gone into making it. The restaurant serves it with a thick vanilla sauce that adds moisture with each mouthful. We think this cake is a good way to end the Asian meal experience.
Pandan Leaf-wrapped Cottage Cheese, Sing Kong
The leaf to this Asian dish is what the banana leaf is to Patrani Macchi. The pandan is used for encasing. This technique of cooking helps the marinated cottage cheese pieces slowly absorb the grassy notes without the chef having to throw in additional extracts. What works for the appetiser is that the cottage cheese is tremendously creamy and holds the evolved flavours of oyster sauce, soy paste and chopped basil leaves. Had it not been for the dipping pot of extra soy, chilli and garlic sauce, the dish wouldn’t have been so enjoyable.
Tab Tim Krob, India Jones
It is one of the most unique desserts the city has to offer. A classic Thai dessert made using pandan-flavoured coconut milk and jellied water chestnut pieces, it gives you a break from conventional desserts. The dish has a slight hint of pandan leaves, which are simmered to leach out their flavour.
The calmness of the milk is disturbed with water chestnuts that are soaked in rose syrup to gain a beautiful pomegranate shade. Overall, the dessert has a slight milky sweetness with a crunch from the nuts. It is served in fancy ice cream goblets with a sugar-crusted rim.