Kueh Talam

I’m a big believer in cooking from scratch. Making your own food means that you are aware of exactly what you’re eating and that you can eat fresh food, free of the plethora of artificial substances that are put into packaged products to improve their shelf-life. Home-cooking can also help to create healthier behaviours when it comes to food – for example, if you’re cooking a batch of one of your favourite sweet delights (like kueh talam), you’re far less likely to keep an instant or preservative-laden stockpile on hand to munch on mindlessly while watching TV, and far more likely to approach the sharing and consumption of this food as the occasional, special treat that it should be – worthy of the time and effort spent sourcing ingredients and of cooking.

Also, if, like me, you live away from the land of your culinary roots, cooking at home may be your only option if you want to enjoy some of your favourite foods.

Whether or not you have tried kueh talam before, I urge you to try it. It’s traditionally gluten-free and dairy-free, and includes coconut cream, which people are coming to realise can be a good source of medium chain fatty acids which can be beneficial to the digestive tract, particularly for people who suffer inflammatory conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome. (It is still a calorie-dense treat though, so consume in moderation!)

Ingredients

  • 180g of banana or mango (optional)
  • 500mL of coconut cream
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 300g of white sticky rice, soaked overnight and then drained
  • 5 pandan leaves, tied together in a knot
  • 60g of tapioca starch
  • 110g of sticky rice flour
  • 1 medium egg
  • 1 tsp of green pandan essence, or 1 tsp of clear pandan essence and a few drops of green food colouring
  • 180g of castor sugar
  • 350mL of water

Equipment

  • a non-stick, round spring-form cake tin
  • a large stockpot with a fitted lid, big enough to fit the cake-tin into, on a tripod or upturned bowl over boiling water
  • a bamboo steaming basket, or a steel steaming basket lined with a cloth or low-lint tea towel
  • small pot with a fitted lid

Method

Soak the sticky rice in water overnight.

The next day, pour the sticky rice into the bamboo steaming basket, or into the lined steel steaming basket.

Mix the pinch of salt into 150mL of coconut cream, and pour this over the rice. Place the knotted pandan leaves on top, and steam the rice and leaves over rapidly boiling water for 25 minutes.

While the rice is steaming, bring the castor sugar and water to boil in a small, covered pot to make a clear syrup.

If you’re using banana or mango, slice it finely into a large bowl. When the rice is done, break it up to gently separate it with a fork, scraping and dropping it over the fruit as you do so. Mix the rice and fruit gently so that the fruit is dispersed reasonably evenly through the rice, and then pack the rice and fruit into the cake tin. Pat it down with the back of a large ladle, and compress it into a compact, even layer.

Place the cake tin onto the tripod or upturned bowl in the large stock pot, over – but not touching – boiling water. Close the lid of the stock pot, and steam the rice for 5 minutes. The water should be boiling enough to release bubbles and steam, but not too rapidly – a low to medium heat should be sufficient, depending on your stove top.

While the sticky rice is steaming, prepare the green pandan layer.

Combine the tapioca starch, sticky rice flour, remaining coconut cream, egg, pandan essence, food colouring (if you’re using it) and syrup and mix until everything is combined. It will be a watery, green liquid at this stage – it takes on a firm, jelly-like texture under heat.

Pour the green mixture over the sticky rice in the cake tin, and steam for another 35 minutes. Take care that none of the green mixture drops into the steaming water beneath the cake tin, as this will cause it to bubble up, possibly over and into the tin. Cover the pot with a tea towel and a fitted lid – the tea towel prevents condensation from dripping from the lid onto the top of the kueh, ensuring a smoother texture.

The kueh is cooked when the green layer is set firm. If you touch it gently with the back of a spoon, it will be sticky and wobbly, but will maintain its shape.

Take it out of the stock pot, and let it cool completely before slicing.

To slice it, use a butter-knife all around the circumference before opening the springform tin. You can then slice the kueh into its customary small rectangles using a sharp, thin, wet knife. It’s a very rich and filling treat, thanks to the coconut cream and sticky rice, so it’s best served in small portions.

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