Giving thanks for Thai 'pumpkin pie'

Giving thanks for Thai 'pumpkin pie'
Ari LeVaux - 02/15/2018

The Thai dessert sangkaya is a steamed squash filled with coconut custard. It may not sound like pie, but anyone who likes a good slice of pumpkin pie should be very interested in this dish.

I first came across sangkaya at a night market in Bangkok. Taking in the tapioca balls, syrups, fried goodies and brightly colored jellies of a dessert vendor, I noticed a squash that was sliced into four wedges, revealing a white custard filling. I bought a wedge. The combination of sweet, starchy squash flesh and creamy coconut custard reminded me of pumpkin pie and turned my concept of pumpkin pie inside out.

Pumpkin pie filling, after all, is basically spiced pumpkin custard. This pumpkin Thai, as I call sangkaya, is basically a deconstructed pumpkin pie, minus the crust and pie spices, like cinnamon and nutmeg.

While most pumpkin pies contain vanilla, sangkaya contains pandan leaf, which has a similarly warm, sweet fragrance. Like vanilla, pandan leaf doesn’t actually taste sweet but has an aroma that goes well with sweet things. Since every squash is a different size, and some types take longer to cook than others, giving a one-size-fits-all cooking time recommendation is difficult. Making it even more complicated is the fact that different squashes have different-sized body cavities, resulting in different custard thickness. Because it’s easy to overcook the squash while you fret about the custard not setting up, or vice-verse, you should make this a few times in private with the squash you have available before unveiling it to others. The good news is that almost any of the potential pitfalls and failures are entirely edible, so you can eat the leftovers. If all you want is something delicious to eat, this recipe is a snap. But to make something pretty requires more artifice. 

Rinse the outside of a squash. Trim the bottom, if necessary, to make it sit flat and not roll over. Then cut out the stem end of the squash, making a round or square hole as you would when carving a jack-o-lantern, and scrape out the seeds and membranes. Kabocha squash is typically used, but acorn, delicata, buttercup and many others work too.

To make the custard, begin by mixing a cup of coconut cream with a cup of sugar, and heat gently until the sugar dissolves and mixture becomes smooth. Coconut cream can be purchased as such. Alternatively, a typical can of coconut milk will separate into thick cream and a thin, low-fat milk. It may take two cans of coconut milk to glean a cup of coconut cream. As for the sugar, coconut or palm sugars are the most authentic, but sugar from sugarcane or beets will do the job.

Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. Beat five eggs and mix them with the cooled mixture. Add a half-teaspoon vanilla and strain the mixture through cheesecloth or a wire mesh to remove any bubbles. Pour into hollowed squash, within an inch of the top.

Pour any extra custard into a ramekin or other heat-proof dish to make steamed coconut custard.

Place the squash in a steamer, and steam. Larger squashes should be supported by a wide bowl; one pitfall in making this dish is to cook the squash to the point where it’s too soft and slumps over.

It could take up to an hour for the custard to set in a larger squash; as little as 20 minutes for a cup of custard. After about 40 minutes, check to see if the custard has set. The custard will have expanded over the top and plugged the hole you created, making this dish over the top in more ways than one.

Insert a butter knife deep into the custard and try to wag it back and forth like a paddle. If it moves easily, or if liquid comes out, the custard isn’t done. Keep steaming, checking every 10 minutes until the knife won’t paddle. Turn off the heat and allow to cool.

When the squash cools, cut it into wedges as you would a pie, and serve.

Top Shelf

Russell, Ramblin' Jack and a Night at the Opera
Russell, Ramblin' Jack and a Night at the Opera
By Chris Aaland
09/20/2018

I must admit that I love my professional life, balancing radio and writing. Ever since 1987 when I stumbled through an interview with Warren Zevon for KDUR and the FLC Independent, I’ve been hooked.

The blues, the whole blues, and nothing but the blues
The blues, the whole blues, and nothing but the blues
By Chris Aaland
09/13/2018

And so it ends. The last major blowout of festival season is upon us. When the Bones of J.R. Jones strikes their first note at Sunset Plaza in Mountain Village at 5 p.m. tonight (Thur., Sept. 13), the 25th annual Telluride Blues & Brews will officially be under way. Denver’s Dragondeer follows.

Ska-nniversary, joining the circus & Twin Buttes bash
Ska-nniversary, joining the circus & Twin Buttes bash
By Chris Aaland
09/06/2018

Ska Brewing’s 23rd Anniversary and Brewers Invitational takes place from 4-9 p.m. Saturday at the World Headquarters in Bodo Park.

Four Corners folks, Sneaky Pete and motorcycles
Four Corners folks, Sneaky Pete and motorcycles
By Chris Aaland
08/30/2018

The 23rd annual Four Corners Folk Festival takes place Friday through Sunday on Reservoir Hill in Pagosa Springs.

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

Stay golden
Stay golden
By Stephen Eginoire
09/20/2018

With the summer of 2018 vanished in a literal cloud of smoke, it’s time to embrace the present and hurry on out to your local aspen grove before it’s too late! This year’s truly exceptional supply of color won’t be lasting much longer.

On the Rocks
On the Rocks
By Stephen Eginoire
09/13/2018

Does the incredibly fast-paced world of outdoor sports make you anxious? Is your bike too nice to ride? Perhaps the abundance of trail-panache has made you self-conscious.

Gone to Press
Gone to Press
By Stephen Eginoire
09/06/2018

As crisp mornings give way to shorter days, harvest season has begun. In Montezuma County, this year’s apple crop has been remarkable.

Let the good times roll
Let the good times roll
By Stephen Eginoire
08/30/2018

It’s that time of year again. Turn up the Steppenwolf, cinch the do-rag and juice the throttle, ’cause the open road is calling

Read All in Day on the Life