Pandan, or screwpine (lá dứa in Vietnamese) leaves are one of my favorite flavorings for Vietnamese desserts. You can find fresh, frozen leaves in the freezer section of an Asian grocery store. When blended and pulverized with water, then strained, it results in a bright, deep green juice, similar to wheatgrass juice.
If you’re not familiar with this flavoring, pandan has a grassy, vanilla-like, coconut-y taste that’s paired very well with coconut juice and coconut milk. I love making my students a vanilla cake accented with coconut and pandan flavors – they gobble it all up! For the pandan newbies, I’d probably suggest you use half the 4 oz package (so 2 oz) to make the juice at first (keep the same water and coconut juice measurements, just use less pandan leaves). I like a strong, almost bitter, pandan flavor (which is why the creamy coconut milk is such as perfect pairing), so I just used the whole thing. You’ll want to add in some tart and sweet fruit, or even canned, ripe yellow jackfruit to make a fun dessert.
And if you haven’t used agar agar before, it’s a vegan gelatin substitute, derived from algae. Totally animal cruelty-free and a great jello substitute! Careful not to allow too much time for the first pandan layer to set; if it sets completely, your layers may separate. I like to carefully ladle in the coconut mixture to create a slightly marbled look; I’ve seen perfect layers in this jelly before, but I will remind you – I am imperfect and I don’t mind the swirls and marbling in this jelly. 😉
These jellies are so refreshing, and on hot summer days like this, I’ll grab a couple cubes from the fridge when I’m walking by. They disappear in no time! 🙂
Coconut and Pandan Jellies
A refreshing jelly that can be paired with fresh fruit for a colorful, summertime treat.
Cut with pandan leaves into thin slices with scissors.
Place these leaves in a blender, along with 1 cup of water. Blend until the leaves are almost pureed.
Strain this mixture and squeeze the leaves to extract about 1 cup of green pandan liquid.
Place this liquid into a medium saucepan, along with the coconut juice, sugar, and 1 tbsp agar agar. Whisk and turn the heat on medium, until mixture comes to a low boil. Turn off the flame, and pour the mixture gently into a 8 x 11.5 inch baking pan. Allow mixture to sit for 15 minutes before prepping the coconut mixture (in the meantime, do the dishes, clean up, etc!).
For the coconut agar, rinse out the saucepan used to make the pandan agar, and add in the coconut milk, sugar, and 2 tsp agar agar powder. Whisk and turn the flame on medium. Allow mixture to come to a boil and turn off the heat.
At this point, the pandan layer should have set a tiny bit. Carefully ladle some coconut milk onto the pandan layer; it's okay to have some coconut milk seep into the green layer; you want it artsy! Continue to gently pour the coconut milk until all gone.
Do not move the baking pan, for at least 30 minutes until mostly set. Then, put the baking pan in the fridge for about 2 hours until ready to serve, or set. Cut into cubes and serve by itself or with fruit.