The great thing about living in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, is that you can get several versions of the same dish. Usually by the way it's served, you can tell which country it is from. Same, same….but different, as the popular phrase goes.
L-R: Rice flour, mung bean flour and matcha powder
Take cendol, for example. This is a Malay dessert - short, green noodles made from mung (or green) bean flour, served with palm sugar syrup and coconut milk. Pandan (screwpine leaves) are used to flavor the noodles and impart the green color. The Singapore version uses only green bean flour, but the Malaysian version uses rice flour and sometimes tapioca starch as well. Tapioca starch makes the noodles more stretchable, whereas green bean flour gives the cendol a slightly springy texture. The Indonesian version often uses a mix of rice flour and sago flour. The Singaporeans and Malaysians serve their cendol with red beans over crushed ice while in Indonesia, cendol is served with sliced jackfruit. As for us in Brunei, we tend to eat our cendol plain because that’s how we like it. The simpler things we know are often the best, although a heavy dose of coconut milk helps too (bad, bad, bad for the heart…I know!)
For this post, I wanted to do a fun take on two classic Asian desserts: Malay Cendol and Thai Red Ruby or Tub Tim Grob. Tub Tim literally means 'ruby', and Tub Tim Grob means 'crunchy ruby'. Red Ruby is essentially chopped water chestnuts encased in tapioca flour and served with coconut milk. The chestnuts are colored red and when they are cooked, the tapioca coating turns translucent, making them look like shining rubies. The first time I had this dessert, I was only a tiny tot and forgivably mistook the rubies for pomegranate seeds!
I’m always up to playing around with ingredients in my kitchen so for the cendol, I did away with the pandan flavoring and substituted matcha (green tea) powder instead. That gave the resulting cendol an ever so slighty bitter matcha taste but hey, still maintaining the traditional green color. For the Red Ruby, I couldn’t be bothered to mess around with water chestnuts (the dastard peeling….gah! Luckily, I didn’t have any in the house), so I replaced that with a crisp, green pear instead. I liked that the pear retained some crunchiness after being boiled for only a few minutes, and it also gave a soft fragrant to the rubies upon chewing.
Now you and I know that everything tastes a gazillion times better when it’s frozen. With this valuable insight in hand, I decided to freeze the accompanying condiments of coconut milk and palm sugar in pretty ice cube moulds to make them more interesting – plus you can actually see that they are part of the dessert. It’s just a whole lot more fun to eat this slowly in pace with the melting of the ice cubes!
Okay, let me focus on some technicalities here, in order to make those cendol noodles you would need special equipment. The pros use a cendol press, but not everybody has one at home. I will therefore make life easier for you (and me) by recommending that you use one of these makeshift equipment* that works wonders as well:
- A large holed potato ricer
- A colander with round holes
- A metal ladle with holes (I used this)
- A cookie press using the attachment with many small holes
- A clean, durable, food grade ziplock plastic bag (To make a hole, snip off a small corner about 2-3mm)
Did you get the key word? HOLES…the more the better! The last suggestion is probably the best because ziplock bags are available everywhere so now there's no reason for you not to try out this recipe!
Matcha Cendol and Faux Red Ruby Dessert
Serves : 4
Matcha Cendol “Noodles”
½ cup rice flour
½ cup mung/green bean flour
2 tablespoons matcha powder
3 cups water*
3-4 cups soybean milk
1. Before you start, prepare a basin of ice water. You will need to press the cooked flour mixture straight into this mixture to solidify it into cendol.
2. Mix all the above ingredients together and cook on low heat until mixture thickens, stirring constantly to prevent burning.
3. Fill mixture into the equipment* you're using (see post above). Press dough down with a spoon or squeeze, dropping the mixture into the ice water. Work fast as the mixture solidifies quite quickly!
4. When the cendol mixture has all been squeezed into the ice water, keep cendol in the fridge together with the ice water until ready to use. Use a slotted spoon or sieve to scoop cendol out.
5. Reserve soybean milk for the dessert assembly.
* You can substitute the water with pandan juice: Just blend 1 cup loosely packed pandan leaves - washed, snipped with scissors - with 3 cups water and strain to get the pandan juice. If fresh pandan juice is not available, just use 2 teaspoons green pandan paste/essence with 3 cups of water.
Palm sugar ice cubes
150g palm sugar
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Place palm sugar, caster sugar and water in a saucepan and boil until sugar has melted. Continue to simmer for 2-3 minutes until syrupy. Let the mixture cool in pan to room temperature, then pour into ice cube trays and place in the freezer until frozen solid.
Coconut Milk Ice Cubes
500ml coconut milk
Pinch of salt
Simply add the salt to the coconut milk and stir until dissolved. Warm mixture in a pan on low heat, if necessary, them cool. Pour mixture into ice cube trays and place in the freezer until frozen solid.
Faux Red Ruby
1 cup chopped pear (pea-sized)
1 cup tapioca flour
5 drops red food coloring (or 1/2 cup beetroot juice)
1. Place pear pieces into a bowl and add red food coloring, mix well and leave to soak for 5 minutes.
2. Next, turn the pear pieces into 'rubies' - Spoon tapioca flour into a ziplock bag and add the pears. Shake well to coat the fruit pieces, leaving them in the bag until required. Remember to shake off excess flour using a sieve before cooking.
3. Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil and add half the pears at a time. Stir to separate while cooking, it should be ready when the flour coating becomes translucent and the pear pieces float to the surface (2 minutes).
4. Scoop out rubies with a strainer and place into a basin of ice cold water. Drain and add to the final dessert.
Planning and assembling dessert
1. Make the Palm Sugar and Coconut Milk Ice Cubes a day ahead. On the day of serving, make the Matcha Cendol first, then the Red Ruby.
2. To assemble, you would need soy bean milk as a liquid base. Pour about 1/3 to 1/2 cup soy milk into each bowl, add the strained Matcha Chendol and Ruby Reds and dump in the ice cubes (a piece each of coconut milk and palm sugar, or to individual taste). Serve immediately.