My vegan friend Shahab came up with the word ‘Durgasm’, defining the orgasmic experience of sinking your teeth into the flesh of the perfect durian. I would have not been able to come up with a better word in my lifetime. Indeed, Durian is a full-on ambush of the senses: that prickly husk so sharp you need gloves to handle them, that overpowering sulphurous scent, that sticky, fibrous, egg-like texture that delivers a punch of sweet, bitter warmth that tastes like jackfruit fermented in rum. Whether one loves it or hates it, it is done so with fury.
I can’t remember when I had my first durian, neither do I remember ever disliking it. It has always been a food eaten communally; family and relatives squatting on the kitchen floor, huddled around newspaper and slippery seeds and prickly husks and a machete and cheers of surprise when a presumably empty husk is split into two to reveal yet another row of plump, succulent durian meat.
Now living with someone who is still intimidated by the thought of trying the King of Fruits, my opportunities to feast on durian are few and far between. It is not the most affordable fruit either. But these past few weeks, I have noticed a surge in durian supplies around the Klang valley. Vendors dispersed around street markets, fruit trucks by the roadside, and even some random guy shamelessly parking outside my neighborhood mamak and selling durians right out of the boot of his car. A friend of mine says that it’s because durian season this year has coincided with the Ramadan and Aidilfitri celebrations, coupled with me doing research and finding out that recent Malaysian weather has been perfect for durian trees. This has resulted in a surplus, and durians are now being sold cheaper to get rid of all of it.
I’ve been asked in the past to come up with a durian recipe, but I couldn’t bring myself to kick the husband out of the house for a few days to stink up the apartment. But now he’s visiting his family in Denmark, and with this current durian boom, I’ve gotten straight to work!
One of my favourite desserts before going vegan was custard, and sensed that the creaminess of durian would be an excellent choice in creating a unique fusion dessert.
Panna Cotta is Italian for ‘cooked cream’, often set with gelatin. I have replaced gelatin with agar powder, and cream with coconut milk from a carton, both substitutes of which are easily found in grocery stores.
To be frank my memories of eating panna cotta are too vague for me to recall the texture of it. Looking up online references, I’ve read that it should be just the right mix of smooth, firm and wobbly. Observing photos of how panna cotta should be like when cut with a spoon helped with my idea of what I needed to achieve. Taking into consideration the delicate elegance of panna cotta, it was one of the trickiest recipes I’ve developed. But after making a sheer mess of the kitchen three times over, I think I’ve finally hit the jackpot.
The recipe itself is unbelievably simple, with a list of 5 ingredients and cooking time being close to negligible. The addition of turmeric is just for the sake of adding colour, and it lends a very slight hint of turmeric to the dessert, which is complementing, but goes very well without it. Another thing I love about this recipe is that you don’t even need to buy expensive durian. We are only wanting the taste of durian, so buying the lower-end, normal ‘kampung’ (village-grown) durian is recommended over getting those crazy breeds with crazy names (like Black Pearl, Red Prawn and Cat Mountain King to name a few).
Including peeling the flesh off the durian seeds, you should need no more than a total of 15 minutes in the kitchen and the rest is waiting time for the panna cotta to set in the fridge. Melting some gula melaka bricks with water to make gula melaka syrup, and grating some fresh ginger for decoration, are other extras I’ve done.
The result is a melt-in-your-mouth experience for an already divine fruit, and something I never thought would be possible: something (arguably) BETTER than durian itself.
If you area durian lover in Malaysia taking advantage of the current bumper harvest, go ahead and save a little bit of your bounty for trying out this recipe, and get ready to hear angels sing.
Durian Panna Cotta
For the durian lover, this delicate dessert presents the Malaysian 'King of Fruits' in Italian fashion, a melt-in-your-mouth experience to be slowly savoured for full effect.
- 1/2 cup fresh durian pulp
- 500ml coconut milk
- 1 tsp agar powder
- 2 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tsp turmeric powder for colouring (optional)
- Step 1 Blend durian pulp with coconut milk, brown sugar and optional turmeric powder until smooth.
- Step 2 Add agar powder to water in a cooking pot. Stir to dissolve.
- Step 3 Cook over low fire for 2 minutes, stirring constantly until the liquid starts to become thick and viscous.
- Step 4 Add blended durian mixture to the pot. Keep the pot on low heat as you continue to stir, for the agar water to mix evenly into the durian mix. Remove mixture from heat after stirring for approximately 30 seconds, or at the first sign of bubbling or steam, whichever comes first.
- Step 5 Pour mixture into small glasses or jelly moulds.
- Step 6 Place in the fridge and allow to set for minimum 2 hours.
- Step 7 Serve directly in glasses. If with moulds, turn them upside down onto a plate and tap on the top lightly to get the panna cotta out and resting on the plate. Serve immediately.