Recipe: Sweet Coco Pumpkin with Pandan Leaves

If you’ve been to the grocery store lately you’ve seen it. Mounds and mounds of pumpkins. They’re bright fire orange, forest green, haystack yellow, cloud white, and even sorceress gray. Some are bumpy and some are flat out gnarly. They’re all saying hello, strutting their stuff, hoping you’ll take them home.

Every year I take a few more home than the year before. I can’t help it. I like the teeny weeny ones best. The kind Ava can practically palm in her small 2 year-old hand. I also like to grab weird ones I haven’t tried before as well as ones that look a little forlorn and forgotten. What can I say – I love all pumpkins equally.

That being said, let’s focus in.

Today is all about the Kabocha pumpkin. The skin of these smallish gems are mostly green and with a flare of orange. You’ll find them all over Asia and Oceania, including this week’s Global Table – Kiribati. Technically I think they’re a squash – like butternut.

The inside looks just like the vibrant orange of a butternut, in fact.

Serves 6


5 cups cubed kabocha pumpkin, available at Asian markets and whole foods (2-3 lb pumpkin should do)
1 15 oz can coconut milk
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
5 pandan leaves, or more to taste


First, deal with the pumpkin. You might as well turn on a good radio show – this might take a while. Any labor of love does…

(1) Cut the pumpkin in half and remove seeds. (2) Cut each half into strips. (3) Peel the strips (4) Cut the strips into cubes.

Now for the fun part. Tie about 5 pandan leaves into in a knot (you can add more to taste).  I found mine in the frozen section at Nai Hai Asian Market. The pandan leaves give the most haunting flavor to sweets – absolutely indescribable (at best I’ll say they are sweet, green and soft – floral and intoxicating the way a good vanilla extract can be – but yet so, so different), but once you’ve had it you can detect it in just about anything.

Now, add pumpkin and pandan to medium pot with …


.. a steady stream of coconut milk …

… and a heavy sprinkling of sugar snow…

Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes or until tender. Taste and add more sugar as desired.  

Serve hot or chilled. I liked it hot.

Enjoy and Happy October!


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  1. Pandan is one of my very favorite flavors in the whole world – I love it!! I’ve never found the leaves, but I’ve never checked the frozen section before. Usually, it’s available as a paste or liquid extract, right beside the banana and durian. ;)

    I’ll have a look for the leaves the next time I visit an Asian market, though – this recipe looks amazing!

  2. Will Simcoe says:

    I also love pandan leaves! I’m happy to hear they can be found in Tulsa as I wanted my sister to get to try them. The curry shop where I eat breakast every morning (in Thailand) is also a bakery and often for dessert I have either a sweet bun or pancake with sangkaya (pandan custard). It is amazing! In the states, the sweet pancake or bun would be more suitable as the focal point of a breakfast, but here it is a snack because the best curries are usually only available before 8 AM!

    Also, the recipe looks delicious and very similar to many things I’ve tried out here. I went to the birthday part of a Mon teenager from Burma recently and the “birthday cake” was a pumpkin that had been seeded, filled with coconut milk, and steamed whole. We ate it just like that, rind and everything, and it was delicious!

  3. I’ve been wanting to try pandan, especially in something like this, for awhile!

  4. Hi Sasha! While I usually avoid the temptation of coming to your site for recipes to force myself to do the research, it is, as you learned, shockingly difficult to find recipes for Kiribati! I managed to find a returned Peace Corps volunteer, but I did end up coming to you for this recipe. I loved it! Can’t believe I hadn’t yet encountered pandan leaves, I liked it quite a bit. (I also decided, after cooking this, to give up on making my own coconut milk. So much work and I could barely taste the difference! Do you have a preference for canned brand?)


  1. […] This recipe from the Global Table Adventure blog was my first time cooking with pandan, which I found in Chinatown. It was okay, but I wasn’t terribly excited about it, more bland than very aromatic. I think you could probably use more than five pandan leaves. I hate peeling raw pumpkin, so I quickly roasted it first. […]

  2. […] We’ve searched the web for traditional i-Kiribati recipes. Their staples are coconut, pork, taro, Spam, and rice. We found one recipe that with all my heart I wouldn’t call a remotely tasty culinary experience but this is our tribute to this nation, after all. We narrowed down our choices to a dessert called Sweet Coco Pumpkin with Pandan Leaves, compliments of Global Table Adventure. […]

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