Tropical Pudding

Serves 6
(Vegan; no gluten, flour, dairy, eggs, soy products; with option for cane sugar)

Too often desserts compete with rather than complement the meal they accompany. Large servings of heavy, fatty concluding courses made sense in an era gone-by when filling food could be scarce and energy expenditure was high. Being able to offer lots of rich food was also the designer-label-equivalent of its day: it displayed your wealth.

We can honour the historical and psychological symbolism of plenty and hospitality while appropriately updating the forms this comes attached to.

Sago is the starch from the stem of the sago palm. It is a tropical plant like arrowroot and tapioca. It is used similarly as flour, for thickening and as a setting agent. It can be soaked and used in gluten-free breads and baking to help them bind well and not crumble. Sago is inexpensive and usually sold in clear bags from the supermarket. Surprisingly these cute, white, tiny balls cook down into a thick, translucent, jelly-like structure.

This looks elegant served in stemmed and garnished glasses, yet is simple enough for children to make.

¾ cup sago
3 cups water
grated peel and juice of 1 orange
juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup palm sugar*, or organic raw sugar
3 Tbsp honey
¼ cup toasted coconut*
¼ cup coconut cream*
2 Tbsp toasted coconut*
optional garnish of kiwifruit, banana or pawpaw/papaya

Soak the water and sago in a medium stainless steel (not aluminium) saucepan for 30 minutes or longer. Add the orange peel, orange and lemon juices, sugar and honey. Bring to a boil then turn to a gentle simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes while stirring frequently until the sago is translucent and tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the ¼ cup toasted coconut. Allow to cool slightly.

While warm, pour into 6 long stemmed glasses. Top each pudding with 2 tsp coconut cream. Sprinkle each with 1 tsp toasted coconut. Chill 1 hour or more until cold and set. As an optional garnish, immediately before serving place a thick slice of one or two fruits on the rim of each glass.

Shopping and Preparation Tips*:

• Palm sugar: comes from the syrup of palm trees. It is moist and caramel in colour and taste. Packed in boxes of small brown rounds or squares, it is traditionally used in Thai cooking. It is available from most supermarkets next to other sugars (including organic cane sugars) and from Asian supermarkets. Chop, grate or melt.

• To toast coconut, other nuts and seeds: simply place in a sturdy cast iron pan (no oil is necessary) over low-medium heat until lightly brown and fragrant. Or put on a baking tray in a low-medium oven (no more than 180°C or 350°F). Stir frequently and watch carefully to prevent burning.

• Coconut cream: the type recommended comes from the South Pacific, such as Samoa. It is a tinned product and is found in most supermarkets. It should have the consistency of pouring cream and contain no dairy, flour or added sugar. ‘Lite’ types are not necessary: they just have added water and more processing. When cooking use only a small amount of the ‘cream’ version – as is done here; or thin with water, Milk Option or stock – depending on the needs of your recipe.

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