Kolak (or kolek) is an Indonesian dessert prepared with a base of palm sugar and coconut milk, flavored with pandanus leaf. One of the most popular version includes plantain and is called kolak pisang or banana kolak.
With its rich and intense flavors, Indonesian cuisine is one of the most colorful cuisines in the world. It is also highly diverse. This diversity comes from the fact that Indonesia is composed of approximately 6,000 inhabited islands out of a total of 17,508, making it the world’s largest archipelago, with more than 300 ethnic groups
In 2011, Indonesian cuisine also started to gain worldwide recognition, as three of its most popular dishes made it to the list of “World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods (Readers’ Pick)”, a worldwide online poll by 35,000 people held by CNN International.
Rendang, the spicy meat dish which originated from the Minangkabau ethnic group actually topped the list as number one. Nasi goreng, the popular fragrant fried rice came in as number two, followed by satay, a region’s favorite, at number fourteen.
But back to our kolak.
Kolak isn’t really a dessert though. Typically, Indonesians do not eat desserts as we know them in the Western world. Anything sweet is considered snack food. In Indonesia, there is no major distinction between breakfast or lunch or dinner food. However, there is a on between regular meal food and snack food. Beside sweet food, fried rice, most noodle dishes, and certain other savories are eaten as snack food.
Indonesians eat around six times a day. Generally, people eat dinner leftovers for breakfast. Then a mid-morning snack, often a cake or a sweet and spicey fruit dish like rujak, a mixture of diced fruits and vegetables in a peanut and brown sugar sauce with chili.
At lunch, people typically go home to eat with their family. Around 3 PM, Indonesians eat a second snack, which may include rujak, or kolak, or a crushed ice based dessert like es campur or es doger.
People then go back to work until about 7 PM, at which time they go home and eat dinner. Indonesians often have a third snack later in the evening from the street snack vendors. Such snacks may include satay, mie goreng (stir fried noodles) or other various sweet snacks, such as kue putu, steamed coconut and rice flour steamed in a bamboo tube.
Kolak pisang is the most popular variation of the coconut milk and palm sugar based dessert. The most common bananas used for this variation include plantains (pisang raja) and pisang kepok (saba banana).
Kolak ubi or kolak singkong uses sweet potato (ubi) as well as cassava (singkong) as its main ingredients. This version often includes banana as well. The chewy texture of sweet potato and cassava in kolak ubi is a perfect combination with the thick and sweet coconut milk sauce.
Kolak labu is made with pumpkin (labu kuning). This version is typically children’s favorite.
Kolak kolang kaling is a common version of kolak sold during the month of Ramadan. The main ingredient of this version of kolak is kolang-kaling (palm fruit).
The main ingredient for kolak biji salak is sweet potato pearls. Unlike other kolak versions where coconut milk and the other ingredients are cooked together, kolak biji salak is typically cooked in palm sugar syrup. The coconut milk is cooked separately, and it is only added to the kolak before serving.
Other ingredients that can also be added in a kolak include jackfruit or tapioca pearls. Kolak can be served warm, cold or at room temperature.
Pandanus is the other ingredient that is key to any kolak recipe. Pandanus is a palm-like tree or shrub that with about 750 different species. Other common names for the plant include pandan, screw palm, and screw pine.
Although pandanus is used for cooking, mature pandanus leaves are often used for handicrafts. But other parts of the plant are used for housing, clothing, textile for bags, or other uses like fishing or religious usage.
When it comes to cooking, pandan leaves are a popular ingredient of Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines. They add a distinct aroma to rice and curry dishes in recipes such as nasi lemak, kaya (Malaysian coconut jam), and desserts such as pandan cake, which features a distinct green color. In Indian cooking, pandan leaves are often added to biryani.
Pandanus is known as daun pandan in Indonesia and Malaysia, bān lán in China, su mwei ywe in Myanmar, bai toei in Thailand, rampe in Sri Lanka, and as lá dứa in Vietnam. Fresh leaves are typically torn into strips and tied in a knot so they can be removed easily at the end of cooking in a similar fashion as a bouquet garni.
Pandanus can also be found as dried leaves and bottled extract. This extract distilled from the pandanus flower is known as kewra (also spelled kevda or kevada) in India and it is often used to flavor drinks and desserts in India.
I actually prepared this delicious snack for a weekend breakfast. My kids actually loved it and keep asking me to make it again. Well, kids, there are 195 other flavors and thousands of other recipes for us to discover!
- Boil the palm fruit in water for about 15 minutes or until it is soft.
Optional: Peel, and dice the sweet potatoes in 1-inch (2,5cm) cubes. Boil for about 10 minutes or until tender.
- Strain the fruits in a colander and pour some cold water to stop the cooking.
- In the same pot, bring the coconut milk to a boil and stir.
- Add the palm fruits and the palm sugar. Keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add 4 tied pandan leaves. Stir well.
Cut the plantains into ½-inch (2,5cm) segments and add into the pan with the sweet potatoes (optional). Stir well.
- Return to a boil, then turn off the heat and serve it into individual bowl.