The custard layer of my kueh salat (aka kuih seri muka) is a pale avocado green. That's because it's made with (a lot of) pandan leaves. Do you know how the bibiks of yesteryears get a brighter green, naturally? They used dark green leaves called daun pandan serani/suji, which look like pandan leaves but are smaller and darker.
Somewhere along the way, pandan serani got edited out of most recipes and was replaced with artificial green food colouring. It's so rarely mentioned nowadays that a lot of modern cooks don't even know about these leaves.
Some cooks then edit out artificial green food colouring in their recipes, but not in the kueh or cake they make for their photos. Yup, they cheat (shock! horror!). Prime example: Rasa Malaysia's kueh dadar, which you can see here. There's absolutely no way she can get that radioactive shade of green with five precious pandan leaves for 300 ml of coconut milk and 120 g of flour.
Indeed, one of Rasa Malaysia's readers asks why he can't get the green colour in her photos although he follows her instructions. You should have used fresh leaves, she says. *snort; roll eyes* Never mind five. If she can get the radioactive green with 50 FRESH pandan leaves, I'll go scrub her kitchen floor for free. In fact, if she can get even a tiny hint of green of whatever shade with just five pandan leaves, I'll kneel and scrub away.
Isn't it sad that a lot of people have never heard of pandan serani, much less use it? And they wonder why their pandan chiffon cake, ondeh-ondeh, kueh dadar or kueh salat isn't bright green even though they've squeezed – and squeezed, and squeezed some more – the four, five or even 10 pandan leaves as instructed.
Which brings me to the splotches of blue, made with blue pea flowers, in the rice layer of the kueh salat. It's another thing that's been edited out of most recipes because, you know, we are all 'time-poor'. But if we keep changing recipes, for no reason other than to save time, adopt the latest food fad, or dumb-down for the benefit of those living in foreign land, mistakes sometimes creep in and we don't even realize it. Isn't it nice to make something the way it used to be made? At least once in a while so that we don't become too 'food-culture-poor'?
20 August 2012 Update
|KUEH SALAT (COCONUT CUSTARD ON GLUTINOUS RICE CAKE)|
Source: Modified from Cooking for the President
(Recipe for 16 pieces)
5 young pandan leaves, rinsed
250 g glutinous rice
wash and drain in a sieve125 ml water
1/2 tsp salt
125 ml freshly squeezed coconut milk, undiluted
50 bunga telang (blue pea flowers)
pound finely and strain; discard pulpCustard layer
stir thoroughly and sieve100 g young pandan leaves
wash and cut ½ cm long; blend with coconut milk; strain to yield 150 ml; add flour, salt, sugar and water to coconut milk; discard pandan pulp150 ml undiluted fresh coconut milk
2 tbsp plain flour
1/8 tsp salt
115 g sugar
90 ml water
To make rice layer, line bottom of 18 x 18 x 5 cm cake pan with parchment paper, leaving some overhang. Spread half of rice in pan evenly. Top with pandan leaves, then remaining rice. Add water and sprinkle with salt. Steam 10 minutes over rapidly boiling water. Drizzle with coconut milk. Mix thoroughly. Steam 20 minutes. Discard pandan leaves. Drizzle with bunga telang juice, unevenly. Steam 5 more minutes. Check that rice is cooked. If it isn't, drizzle with 1 tbsp water and steam a few minutes. Toss to mix the colours slightly. Press into an even, compact layer with a wet spatula or spoon. Cover and steam another 5 minutes.
Proceed to steam custard as detailed below. If custard isn't ready yet, reduce heat to lowest possible and continue steaming. Rice must be hot and moist when custard is added or the 2 layers won't stick together.
To make custard layer, cook coconut milk mixture over medium heat till gently simmering, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat. Pour half slowly into eggs, stirring to mix eggs and coconut milk evenly. Next, add eggs to remaining coconut milk. Cook combined mixture over low heat, scraping bottom and sides of pot to prevent lumps, till slightly thickened.
When rice is cooked, pour custard onto rice. Reduce heat to lowest possible. Keep steaming water just below boiling point, with the steamer's cover slightly ajar if necessary. Steam till custard is just set in the middle, 35-45 minutes depending on steaming temperature and thickness of custard before steaming. Test by inserting skewer in the middle and wriggling slightly (the skewer, not you). If skewer comes out clean, kueh is done.
Final steps: Remove kueh to a wire rack. Allow to cool completely and set, 3 hours or so. Unmould by lifting parchment paper, onto a chopping board. Cut kueh with an oiled knife, scraping knife after each cut. Discard parchment paper.
Serve as dessert, snack or for tea. Rice should be firm, not mushy; custard should be soft, smooth and rich. Refrigerate leftovers for up to 2-3 days, then bring to room temperature. Steam over rapidly bubbling water to reheat, about 4 minutes if cut serving size. Don't steam longer than necessary or colours would fade. Cool to room temperature before eating.
22 August 2012 update: Just thawed a piece of frozen kueh salat and steamed it. Guess what? It eats like it's freshly made.