When we were young and our parents frequently hosted dinner parties at our house, one of the most oftenserved local desserts was Sago Gula Melaka. In Malay, that literally means sago pudding with coconut palm sugar. As kids, we eagerly watched this sweet being prepared and waited to be handed the 'extra' cups or bowls of this pudding that were not going to the guests. Yes, my mother always prepared extras for the "people of the house", meaning us. And they were usually many extras, which we then went on to share with the "people of the neighborhood"!
This sago pudding is enjoyed by many in the region (Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar), and there are varying but very similar recipes on it. The sago on its own doesn't taste of anything much, but combined with the richness of palm sugar and coconut milk, their plainness is transformed into something magical on the tongue. We love the slippery texture of the tiny sago pearls and the fact that you can't really chew them (well, you can certainly try), just swish them around in your mouth for a bit, then swallow. Yes, just like that. LOL, it's a lot of fun eating this!
My handy spoon holder clip and my triangular molds
Sago Gula Melaka
1 cup small sago pearls
1 cinnamon stick
5 cups water
200g gula melaka (coconut palm sugar), chopped into small pieces
300ml coconut milk, ready-made
a pinch of salt (optional)
1. Boil water and cinnamon in a pot and add the sago pearls, stirring well so they don't clump together. Let it simmer for 15 minutes, stirring all the time. The pearls will turn transparent but there will still be a dot of white in the middle. Turn off the heat, put the lid on and leave for 10-15 minutes more.
2. The pearls will have all turned transparent, meaning that they're cooked. Bring pot to the sink, add lots of water to the hot sago in the pot and stir so that the sago pearls separate. Remove the cinnamon and pour the sago through a metal sieve over the sink. Stir with a spoon so that the starch (which feels gluey) will run through the sieve, leaving just the sago pearls.
3. Rinse enough individual molds or a big bowl (easier if you are serving it to a large group) and scoop sago pearls in. The rinsing part serves to wet the moulds so that it will be easier to turn the sago out later. Let sago cool in the molds, then chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours until very cold.
4. Meanwhile, heat the gula melaka (raw brown sugar made from coconut palm) with 4 tablespoons water in a small pot over low heat to melt the sugar. Do not stir, just let the sugar dissolve into a thin syrup, it will thicken slightly once cooled. If you let it cook further until it is thick, the sugar syrup will become crystallized again upon cooling.
5. Heat the coconut milk or coconut cream but do not let it boil. Add a pinch of salt if you wish this cream to be slightly salty.
6. Turn out the chilled sago pudding from their molds and to serve with the palm sugar syrup and lots and lots of thick, coconut milk. If you have some bananas or cantaloupe, slice them and serve with this pudding. They add an extra dimension and texture to the dish!
Disclaimer: Make sure your cholesterol level’s not off the charts before you eat this. This droolicious dessert is so totally good for the soul, however if you are lucky enough to have this often (as with all rich foods), your heart may not thank you for it!