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

Extreme couponing, Funksgiving & the Revelers
Extreme couponing, Funksgiving & the Revelers
By Chris Aaland
11/15/2018

I rushed from work in Ignacio last Friday afternoon and made a mad dash to the Ska Brewing World Headquarters to utilize a handful of Be Local coupons, which were set to expire the next day.

Dead Floyd, MarchFourth Blockhead and SOL
Dead Floyd, MarchFourth Blockhead and SOL
By Chris Aaland
11/08/2018

When you work in radio, what’s old is new again. While some listeners want to be challenged to hear new sounds and discover up-and-coming artists, most like to hear a song they can sing along to.

Capitol Steps, Puentes and the Blues Box
Capitol Steps, Puentes and the Blues Box
11/01/2018

I’ve been a member of the Fourth Estate since 1987, when, as a college sophomore, I was assistant editor of the FLC Independent.

Stooki, Storm, DRAGula & Frank 'n' Stein
Stooki, Storm, DRAGula & Frank 'n' Stein
By Chris Aaland
10/25/2018

Longtime world music favorites Eufo?rquestra return to the Animas City Theatre at 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Their ever-evolving sound is influenced by music from all over the world, with an emphasis on funk, pocket and groove.

Read All in Top Shelf

Day in the Life

Deep freeze
Deep freeze
By Stephen Eginoire
11/15/2018

As the sun crosses our sky at a softened angle, dipping ever so gently toward the Tropic of Capricorn, autumn will soon be a fleeting memory.

Lost souls
Lost souls
By Stephen Eginoire
11/08/2018

Along a dusty side street in the Old Barrio near downtown Tucson, colorful, quaint buildings frame the crumbling remains of a 150-year-old adobe wall known as El Tiradito.

Boo!
Boo!
By by Stephen Eginoire
11/01/2018

“Hello? Who’s there?? What’s that noise?” Is that the spirit world gently rap-rap-rapping on your window?

High Rollers
High Rollers
By Stephen Eginoire
10/25/2018

More than 800 high school mountain bike racers from around the state, as well as a few from Wyoming and New Mexico, gathered atop Durango Mesa (formerly Ewing Mesa) last weekend for the Colorado High School Cycling League’s championships.

Read All in Day on the Life