If you are not familiar with Southeast Asian cuisines, you might not have seen or heard of pandan leaf or screwpine leaf. Known as “the vanilla of the east,” pandan leaf is an indispensable ingredient in many Nyonya recipes, especially when it comes to Nyonya desserts and sweet cakes known as Nyonya kuih.
My next post is about a favorite Nyonya kuih where pandan leaf is the main ingredient so this post serves as a quick introduction…
The pandan plant is very easy to grow, and you can find them growing in the yard of many homes. For home cooks, all they have to do is cut the pandan leaves as needed for cooking, and then tie them into a knot to infuse dishes such as nasi lemak or desserts such as bee koh moy with the sweet fragrance of the leaves. Other than cooking, my mother loved using pandan for beauty purposes. She would make herself rice-based powder called “bedak sejuk,” and she would add some finely chopped pandan leaves into it. As a result, the home-made “cosmetic” imparts a natural floral aroma that is very pleasing and inviting.
(Bedak sejuk is a local beauty product made of rice powder and water. Rice powder and water are mixed together to form a dough and then broken into small pieces before drying out under the sun. To apply the bedak sejuk, add some water to dilute and apply it to your body or face. They have a cooling effect for the hot and humid weather in Malaysia. The bedak sejuk is similar to the ones used by many women in Myanmar.)
Anyway, I disgress.
In the United States, you can find frozen pandan leaves in Asian stores. Unfortunately, they do no justice to the fresh variety and have lost much of the essence and fragrance. I usually double or triple the quantity to get to the desired result.