Indonesian Kolak Pisang: Bananas with Coconut Milk, Pandan and Palm Sugar

Truly the best part of this blog has been finding a kindred spirit in Simran, a foodie friend who loves to eat and tinker in the kitchen as much as I do. I have a lot of friends who appreciate a great meal, who love to cook, but never a friendship so firmly rooted in all things culinary. Our adventures have led us to recreate beloved childhood flavors (Hainanese Chicken Rice), excursions to out of the way farmstands with our kids in tow, Indian pickle making sessions and treks to far flung corners to sample everything from Shanghai dumplings to southern fried chicken, artisan donuts and taiyaki.

I’m very confident that without Simran, I would never have found myself digging through my pantry to find that forgotten nugget of palm sugar to try my hand at making Kolak, a simple Indonesian dessert of bananas or other tropical fruits gently poached in mixture of coconut milk, pandan leaves, palm sugar, sea salt and vanilla. Simran had given me and a friend a lesson in Indonesian curry pastes and the next thing you know I was knotting pandan leaves and chopping palm sugar and getting over my lifelong dislike of soupy, sweet Asian desserts.

And so another culinary detour begins….

Kolak Pisang

If you are new or not a big fan of Asian desserts, Kolak is a good place to start given that it tastes sort of like bananas foster with an exotic edge (and is a little less guilt inducing because it contains no butter). It’s also quick to make and easy enough for the kids to help with. You can substitute brown sugar for the palm sugar if needed, but don’t skip the pandan leaves. You should be able to find both palm sugar and pandan leaves at a well stocked Asian market. There’s a good overview on pandan leaves on the Burnt Lumpia blog and a write up on palm sugar on Chez Pim.

  • 4 ounces of palm sugar roughly chopped
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 2 pandan leaves, tied in a knot
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 bananas, peeled, halved and sliced into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 Tablespoon tapioca flour or cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoons water to form a slurry
  1. Combine palm sugar, water, vanilla extract, pandan leaves and sea salt in a pot large enough to hold all of the bananas. Simmer for 20 minutes until sugar is dissolved and ingredients are reduced to a syrup.
  2. Add bananas and poach until soft but not mushy (2-3 minutes). Remove the bananas with a slotted spoon while you finish the sauce.
  3. Add the coconut milk and simmer for 5 minutes, then drizzle in half of the tapioca or cornstarch slurry whisking while it thickens. Add remainder of slurry until you reach the thickness of your preference. Remove the pandan leaves and discard.
  4. To serve warm, return bananas to the sauce to just heat through. Bananas and sauce can also be made ahead and served room temperature or cold. Serve alongside vanilla or coconut ice cream.
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Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Empanadas

Yesterday we we spent the afternoon playing with dumplings and empanadas. Both are great projects to do with kids. Even the bambino got into the act! There are lots of tasks that little cooks can do and they might even be inspired to try something new.  As always, hunger for a tasty bite was our main focus, but we were also doing a trial run for our upcoming “Cooking with Kids: Dumplings and Empanadas” event on May 7th at 18 Reasons. Come on out and cook with us! Click here for  class and ticket info.

In addition to having a jolly good time, getting messy and eating way too much, we learned a few things which you may want to keep in mind for your next dumpling or empanada-inspired play date:

  • Make extra dumplings because the kids will probably scarf them down before you can get one (we made Simran’s Easy Peasy Dumplings with minced chicken thigh meat)
  • Mark whose empanadas are whose if you want to avoid an empanada guessing game. An identifying scrap of dough on top does nicely.
  • Chocolate and caramelized banana empanadas are to die for!

Semi-Sweet Chocolate and Caramelized Banana Empanadas

Makes about  6-8 Dessert Empanadas

[you could make a simplified and slightly healthier  version by mashing the bananas and adding a pinch of cinnamon rather than caramelizing them]

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Break up a bar of semi-sweet chocolate into small pieces and set aside.
  3. In a pan melt 2 tablespoons of butter, and stir in 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar until it dissolves. Add a pinch of cinnamon if you like.
  4. Stir in 2 sliced bananas and let them cook in the sauce for a few minutes. [For an adult version, you could add a splash of rum and flambe the filling]
  5. Roll out your empanada dough and cut into 5″ diameter circles (or you can use prepared empanada discs found in most latin markets). Fill each empanada with 3 Tablespoons of filling and place a few chocolate pieces on top.
  6. Brush edges with egg wash ( 1 egg beaten with a Tablespoon of milk).  Fold the dough over the filling making a half circle shape and press edges down to seal. Crimp edge with a fork and poke a few holes on top with the tines of your fork.
  7. Brush top with egg wash and  sprinkle with demerara sugar (optional).
  8. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.