Local name: pandan
English name: screwpine
Scientific name: Pandanus amaryllifolius
I regularly use pandan to impart a lovely aroma to my rice. Screwpine or pandan leaves make the smell of rice richer and deeper. Pandan leaves are also used in several Filipino desserts, especially buko-pandan, a delectable treat made of young coconut meat, gelatin cubes and sago pearls flavored with pandan leaves.
The compound responsible for the rice-y, bread-y aroma of pandan leaves is 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline. In the whole of Southeast Asia, pandan is reported to be commonly used in rice-based dishes. (source: Wikipedia.org)
Here is my pot of pandan plant in my garden. It’s funny because I bought this plant from the flower vendor thinking that it’s nothing more than an ornamental plant. I loved the radial symmetry of this glossy-leafed plant. It was much later, however, that I realized that this was actually pandan, that herb which most Filipino eatery owners add to their rice.
Here is a typical bunch of pandan leaves that I buy from the city market whenever I can. This much sells for 3 pesos. Filipino eatery owners usually make a mat of pandan leaves at the bottom of a pot before boiling rice in it. I tell you, rice couldn’t possibly get any richer and tastier than this ancient Asian way of using this herb add-on. Rice with pandan still tastes the same, only richer and more fragrant.
In the next blog post I will be presenting the health benefits of pandan leaves. Update: here are the health benefits and uses of pandan. There has to be some health benefits to this herb, I know it. But for now, let me just show you a few pictures of how to cook rice with pandan.
First off, it would be very convenient for you if just buy a pot of pandan plant from your flower vendor or plant nursery. I bought my pandan plant (as well as my other plants) for only 20 pesos. (I think I’ll also blog about how to grow and care for pandan plant.) You can buy pandan leaves from any market in the Philippines but really, how often can you go to the market? If you want to have pandan in your pot of rice all the time, you better have your own pandan plant. It’s really very easy to grow and it grows quite fast.
As you can see in the picture, my pandan has given me little baby pandan plants. I now have about 5 little plants which I transplanted into other pots. If you live near me, you can drop by and buy from me, haha. Or if I particularly like you, I’ll give it for free!
Before I cook rice, I go to my garden, squat down before my potted pandan and reach for the 3 lowermost leaves. I whisper a request of permission from pandan and pull off 3 leaves. (Yeah, that’s how much I love my plants.) For a volume of rice that would serve about 5 people, I use 3 leaves.
And then I just put the leaves in the cooking pot of my rice cooker. When rice starts to boil, the whole house is filled with the wonderful aroma of pandan. It lifts my spirits every time.
Here again is my pot of rice, a mixture of white and red rice, flavored and scented delicately with pandan. Try it. Adding pandan or screwpine leaves is one of the simplest things you can do today for your health and for your tastebuds.
If you love rice with pandan, I think you would also love another traditional Filipino rice cooking method — rice cooked in a pouch made out of woven coconut leaves.