I keep hearing people say that there are no good Asian desserts. Let’s be honest, Asian desserts are essentially starchy or deep fried (nothing wrong with either of those things) – think red bean pudding, mochi or lotus pancake. Then there’s the pseudo-Asian desserts like fried ice cream and banana fritter with ice cream.
I get it, they’re often not as good as their cousins, Westerm *ahem* French desserts but let’s not forget that Asia has limited access to dairy. And the weather means that stuff like chocolate is often mixed in with oily stabilisers to help it withstand the heat and humidity. Take out chocolate and cream, and there go a lot of dessert options.
But Asia does have coconut milk (yum!) and gula melaka which is possibly the best form of sugar ever known to humankind. Combine these two and I’m reasonably sure you can win over the biggest Asian dessert-unbeliever.
There’s are a couple of things to watch out for – buy the right sago and the right palm sugar. It’s the small white sago pearls (about the size of mustard seeds) and are also called tapioca pearls. I’ve seen it sold in supermarkets called seed tapioca. Don’t buy the bigger ones, those are for bubble tea. Similarly, the brown sugar needs to be gula melaka which is dark brown palm sugar as opposed to the light brown palm sugar often used in Thai cooking. And don’t confuse it with coconut sugar either – that’s different. I’ve attached a photo for you cos it’s that important.
Moving on – the last thing you need to be careful of is not over or under-cooking the sago. Undercooked sago is hard in the middle and overcooked sago is just tapioca sludge. Here’s hoping I haven’t scared you off the process entirely. Really, really, hand on heart this is one of my favourite desserts. And for my vegan friends, this is a pretty good dessert option – just omit the egg white.
Sago Gula Melaka
serves 8-10 (about 900ml)
250g small sago pearls
1 egg white (just omit if you’re vegan)
200g dark palm sugar, also called gula melaka
1 pandan leaf (optional)
400ml coconut milk
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil, then add the sago. Stir as the water returns to the boil to stop the pearls sticking to each other. Cook for about 12-15 minutes. As it cooks, the outer part of the sago will turn transparent and you’ll see a white dot in the middle of each pearl – that’s the uncooked part. Cook until the pearls are totally transparent or some have only the tiniest white dot in the centre.
- Drain the sago pearls and rinse in cold water to remove some of the starch. They’ll slip through the holes in a colander, so use a sieve of some sort.
- Beat the egg white to soft peaks, then stir in the sago. Pour into one largo 900ml mold or ten small ones. Chill to set, remembering to clingwrap the mold if you aren’t using it within 24 hours – otherwise the top layer of sago will start to dry out.
- Break up the palm sugar with a pestle. Heat the palm sugar, water and pandan leaf (if using) over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- To serve, flip the sago pudding onto plates then pour over the coconut milk and palm sugar.