Sago Gula Melaka is a popular Malaysian dessert consisting of a sago pearl “pudding” drenched in coconut milk and drizzled with palm sugar syrup. Unlike a lot of Malaysian desserts though, this one is super easy to make. You really only need sago pearls, coconut milk and palm sugar. Of course, pandan leaves and salt enhance the flavour, but the basic recipe is really just these 3 ingredients (well, 4 to be exact, if you include water)!
Gula Melaka is the Malay name for palm sugar, which is made from the sap of coconut palm trunks (versus coconut sugar which is made from the sap of coconut palm blossoms). This sap is reduced to a thick concentrate through a boiling process, and then poured into bamboo poles. That’s why you’ll often find it sold as cylindrical blocks. Pure gula melaka is soft enough to be easily shaved or cut into small pieces, while the ones with added white sugar have a harder, drier texture.
Gula Melaka is used in a variety of desserts in Malaysia. As a syrup, it’s Malaysia’s answer to caramel sauce or maple syrup. Its taste can be described as smoky, buttery and mildly caramelly. Since sago pearls on their own are pretty neutral-tasting, it’s really the rich, intense flavour of the gula melaka syrup, paired with the creaminess of the coconut milk, that makes this such a delectable dessert.
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SAGO GULA MELAKA (SAGO PUDDING WITH PALM SUGAR)
3L (12 cups) + 80 ml (1/3 cup) water
200g pearl sago
250 ml (1 cup) coconut milk
1 pandan leaf, knotted
pinch of salt
200g gula melaka (palm sugar), roughly chopped into small pieces
1) In a large pot, bring 3L of water to a boil. Add in sago pearls. Make sure to stir constantly to prevent the sago from settling on the bottom of the pot. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, until the sago pearls are completely translucent, and no longer have white opaque centres.
2) Pour sago into strainer and rinse under running cold water to wash off excess starch. Drain well.
3) Spoon into 4 small bowls, jelly moulds or glasses and chill for at least 2 hours. In the meantime, prepare the coconut milk and gula melaka syrup.
4) In a small pot, heat coconut milk, pandan leaf and salt over low heat until simmering. Remove from heat, strain into a bowl. Discard pandan leaf. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate.
5) In another small pot, combine gula melaka and 80 ml water. Simmer over low heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, strain to remove any impurities. Set aside to cool.
6) Unmold chilled sago pudding into a shallow bowl (or, you can enjoy it right out of the bowls/glasses). Pour some coconut milk over, and drizzle with gula melaka syrup.