On the Trail of the Phoenix – Pulot Inti
After a long hiatus from blogging, I’m finally getting my engine started again. So much has happened over just a blink of an eye. “Sekelip mata” we say in Baba patois, both good things and bad things. While I slowed down on blogging this period of time, I have not stopped cooking, baking or making kueh. In fact, I’d finally picked up the courage of taking orders and help people make kuehs and cook traditional Peranakan dishes for their friends and family to enjoy. It is a win win situation for me as well, as not only does this provide me with the opportunity to hone and sharpen my cooking and kueh making skills, it also helped to supplement the expenses of the cooking and baking hobby. Alas, I’m glad to be back on the blog again, with one of my favorite kuehs, Pulot Inti.
Pulot Inti, otherwise scripted as Pulut Inti or even Pulot Enti is a popular Kueh Cuchi Mulot in Peranakan cuisine which has its roots in Malay kuih muih making. The Malays make it as well, but the Peranakan version uses glutinous rice which has been stained blue with the addition of the natural extract from blue butterfly pea flowers, aka bunga telang, a trademark which has been long associated with Peranakan kueh making. I have my own bunga telang bush in my small corridor garden but it is not blooming prolifically enough to sustain its use in my kueh making. Thankfully, I have good friends like Anna and Lynette who constantly supply me with dried flowers they collect.
The decision to make this kueh was a really last minute one, more of a twist to a hiccup! The original intention was actually to help one of my friends make some kueh for her church mates to enjoy but I got the date wrong! More precisely, the date was correct but the month was wrong! I had thought the day of her order was the 29th September when it turned out to be the same date but in October instead! So the glutinous rice were soaked and stained one month ahead, not to mention most of the ingredients procured and processed, ready for the final steps of kueh making. Thankfully, I “double confirmed” with her on the kuehs she wanted and she was naturally shocked, and truth is, so was I! My fault really for making such a big blooper of getting the dates messed up! Determined not to let the ingredients go to waste, I “transformed” the ingredients for the original order of kueh sarlat, abok abok sagu and apom berkuah into 2 kuehs, one sweet and one savory which I personally enjoy tremendously, Rempah Udang and of course, Pulot Inti.
The soaked rice was steamed as planned but some improvisations and adjustments need to be made to the other ingredients. For example, the banana leaves that were plucked to be used to line the steaming trays are now used to wrap the kuehs. The grated coconut that was meant to go into the abok abok sagu is now used to cook the filling for both these two kuehs. The gula melaka syrup that was meant for the sago pearls for abok abok sagu as well as cooking the kuah pengat for apom berkuah, is now used to flavour the “inti” of the pulot inti instead. Freshly squeezed coconut milk was easily taken care of as it is one of the most if not the most common commodity in kueh making and other laok embok embok dishes and the pisang rajah for the kuah pengat is as good for eating as they are for cooking, so in short, nothing is wasted! I’m glad I’d checked with her on the kuehs she wanted before I started the fermentation process for the apom berkuah! If that was done, it would have been a point of no return! Naseb gua baik skali!
The making of pulot inti is really simple by “nyonya kueh making standards” but it does take some practice to get the wrapping done correctly. I like my pulot inti with a bit of “peekaboo” for the filling to show through the crevice at the top of the wrapping. For me, it is more visually enticing for those who would be enjoying the kueh, not to mention the symbolic significance of “brimming with overflowing abundance”. This is my personal interpretation of it of course. Jangan marah gua kalo chakap tak betol… That said, if the pulot inti need to be made in advance and served only several hours later, it is advisable to cover the filling completely to prevent it from drying out. Otherwise, be sure that the parcels of pulot inti are stored in covered containers after they are prepared.
The ratio for me is a simple 1/3 filling of fresh grated coconut cooked with gula melaka syrup and 2/3 glutinous rice steamed with fresh coconut milk. Some like more filling and tip the ratio to 1:1 but I find this combination a bit too overwhelming, or what we call “jelak”. There must be a good balance of sweetness from the grated coconut filling, as well as savory and “lemak” sensations from the rice. I must insist that the glutinous rice be steamed and not cooked in a rice cooker. It is sacrilegious to think of doing the latter, though I do know of some folks who do that and yet, advocate their kuehs to be authentic. Authenticity is something which I would not dare claim or easily promise, especially if one’s methods are in fact unorthodox. Steaming the glutinous rice would still yield really soft and fluffy, yet individually grained pulot without being mushy, which is for me one of the yardsticks of a good pulot inti. It is just like how one would steam their nasi lemak properly and not do it in the rice cooker. If you have always been doing the latter, try steaming for once and you will know what I mean. A discerning tongue would know the difference. That said, cooking nasi lemak is an artform in its own right, a very important dish to the Peranakans in Singapore and thus worthy of a proper discussion on its own. Another time perhaps.
The making of Pulot Inti is basically divided into two parts, i.e. the soaking and steaming of the glutinous rice as well as the cooking of the grated coconut filling, so here is the recipe.
Pulot Inti – Steamed Glutinous Rice with Grated Coconut Parcels Recipe (makes about 15-18 small parcels)
300g glutinous rice, rinsed
200ml fresh coconut milk
1 1/2 tsp salt
3-4 pieces of pandan leaves, shredded
2 tbsp concentrated bunga telang extract or 1 tsp blue food colouring (optional)
250g freshly grated coconut,white parts only without brown shell or husk
80-100g good quality gula melaka, chopped, depending on sweetness desired
2 tbsp granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
3-4 pieces pandan leaves, shredded
15 pieces banana leaves, 10 x 15 cm, soften and wilted slightly over flame or in boiling water
Divide the glutinous rice in two separate bowls and to one of the portions, add the bunga telang extract.
Add sufficient water to cover the grains in both bowls with around 1/2 inch more water above the rice. Allow the rice to soak for 4 to 6 hours.
Meanwhile, prepare grated coconut filling.
Add water to a saucepot and bring to a boil. Add chopped gula melaka and stir until completely dissolved.
Strain into a bowl to remove any debris. Return the gula melaka syrup into the saucepot and add granulated sugar. Stir to dissolve.
Add grated coconut and shredded pandan leaves. Stir periodically to mix well. Continue to stir over medium low heat until the mixture dries up considerably. The grated coconut strands should however still be moist without any liquids pooling at the bottom.
Turn off flame and set aside to cool down.
Drain the soaked rice and place in two separate steaming trays or pans. Place some shredded pandan leaves in between the grains.
Steam for 10 min under high heat.
Meanwhile, add salt to coconut milk and stir thoroughly to dissolve the salt.
Divide the coconut milk into two portions and drizzle over partially steamed glutinous rice. Stir a bit before cover and continue to steam for another 20 min.
Turn off flame, using a spatula or fork, fluff the rice grains to loosen them. Cover and let the rice sit for another 10 min. Remove cover and let the rice cool down slightly until warm to touch.
To assemble, place a piece of banana leaf over a work surface. Wipe down the surface of the leaf with damp kitchen towel.
Place one and a half generous tbsp of steamed glutinous rice over the middle of the leaf, followed by a dollop of grated coconut filling.
Lift the two long sides towards the middle and tuck the two ends backwards firmly. Trim the ends of the banana leaf if necessary.
Repeat the process until all the ingredients and/or banana leaves are used up.
The pulot inti is now eady for consumption. However, to accentuate the aroma of the banana leaves, the following can be done.
Place the little parcels of wrapped pulot inti over a steamer and steam over high heat for 5 min.
Turn off the flame but leave the parcels inside the steamer covered for another 10 min.
Remove cover but let the parcels cool down slightly until they are warm to touch before removing from steamer.
The parcels of pulot inti can be served slightly warm or at room temperature.
So here’s recipe for the sweet Pulot Inti. For the recipe of the savory Rempah Udang, akan datang!