Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Durian Pengat – A Little-known Sweetie

Two weeks ago, I visited a durian plantation in Muar for the first time. Muar is a mere three hours or so by car from Singapore, but driving there was a little adventure in itself. We stopped beside the highway and met a local business representative. He guided us along a scenic riverside route. We drove through some areas that reminded me very much of Malay kampongs in Singapore back in the 60s and 70s, particularly those at Pasir Panjang and Geylang. Mid-way in the journey, the plantation owner met us and we drove a further 45 minutes towards the hills.

The edible durian flowers
Durian trees grow much farther apart from each other than other trees, such as palm. Durians hung from the branches. We reached a D13 durian site. The leaves of D13 trees are sharper in shape than those of other durian breeds; so are the spikes of the fruit. The durian flowers were plump looking and grew in clusters. The plantation owner explained to us that each tree yielded two harvests (of around hundred or more fruits each) a year on average, depending on the weather. The yield from the same tree might even taste different from day to day depending on rainfall and sunshine. And just like the vineyard, the older the tree the better the fruit. Durians are best eaten around 6 hours after falling off the tree. Once after, fermentation sets in and the fruit starts to decay.

An old squirrel-bite mark
How to choose a good durian? Here are finer points:

  1. The stem from the fruit must be full, thick and fresh
  2. The fruit should feel light in weight, otherwise it would be soft and soggy
  3. The fruit’s colour should be bright and with a slight shine
  4. The shape should not be round, but with radial bulges similar to a pumpkin
  5. When the durian is shaken, there should be a slight sound of rattling
  6. Look for old worm- or animal-bite marks; it is a sign of a good durian
A kampong durian from a 50-year old tree. 

With this, I will introduce an “old” recipe used to cook below-average durian when you do not want to eat them neat. Durian pengat resembles a semi-porridge that is best eaten with apom, pancakes, or glutinous rice. The Malays and Peranakans would commonly cook it at home as a snack. Apom is often associated with the Indians, but it can be traced back to its origins as an Indonesian snack. The ingredients are simple, but the key is yeast, whose fermentation gives rise to a slightly sour after-taste.

Durian Pengat

Durian                         1½ cups
Water                          1½ cups
Palm sugar                  ½ cup
Coconut milk              40 ml
Salt                              a pinch
Pandan leaves            2

1.    Cook water, pandan leaves and durian until soft over low heat.
2.    Add palm sugar and let it simmer.
3.    Add coconut milk and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.
4.    Serve immediately with apom.

Apom (serves 8 pieces)

Coconut milk              1 cup
Rice flour                     125 g
Plain flour                    5 g
Instant yeast                ¼ tbsp                         
Sugar                           40 g
Eggs                            ½
Salt                              a dash
Pandan leaves            4 leaves

1.    Heat coconut milk with pandan leaves and infuse the milk thoroughly. Set aside.
2.    Beat eggs and sugar.
3.    Add flour, yeast and egg mixture. Stir well.
4.    Let it rest for one hour.
5.    Heat pan and wipe it with butter
6.    Pour a ladle of mixture and swirl to spread the mixture evenly.
7.    Cover the pan and cook over low flame.
8.    Remove when the sides of the apom turn light golden.