Monday, November 3, 2008

Halal Jello

Ever since my toddler's allergies were diagnosed, I started an allergy free diet because I am still nursing him. Wheat free, egg free, dairy free, soy free, and peanut free it was. It was not easy. I craved ice cream, I mourned over baked goods, I missed bread, I eyed the bottle of soy sauce with ardent longing.

Now, I'm much better at doing without food that has all the above allergens, and like all mothers to allergic children, I have come to terms with eating allergy free food. In my quest for munchable snacks, I turned to a kind of dessert that I used to eat with gusto when I was a child.

Agar-agar is derived from seaweed. It can also be a substitute for eggs in some cases, and when cooked and cooled, is akin to the western Jello, though I would say that the jello has a different texture. Nevertheless, I call agar-agar Halal Jello. Now let's not open that can of worm, shall we? ;)

When I first came to the United States, I didn't know how to cook, much less make a simple agar-agar dessert (which is very simple by the way). I remember my roommate pouring about a teaspoon of the boiled liquidy agar-agar into a bowl and chucking it into the freezer. I simply looked on, curious. She then took it out and lo and behold, the agar-agar had cooled to a firm jelly-like miniscule slab. We tested our mouth. It was too hard (if I remember it correctly), so we added more water to the boiling agar-agar mixture on the stove and kept stirring.

I seldom make this dessert, but after the allergies, I started making it. But I remember the hassle of this checking process, so I took the trouble to take measurements when I made them. So, I needed only to use the freezer for this in the very beginning, and from thereon after, I kept my measurements for easier future reference.

This is really a nice dish to play around with, in terms of flavoring and design. I guess, it can be categorized as one of those 'cool edible kitchen experiments'. You can also add eggs to the boiling mixture, and produce a rich, interesting textured agar-agar, but since I couldn't take eggs, I experimented only with coconut milk and flavoring. In this case, I decided to make it caramel, after enjoying Shida's delish caramel agar-agar once, a long time ago.

I had the kids brainstorm a name for this particular agar-agar I whipped up, and because of the color, they came up with Cougar (due to the color and the 'gar' in it, for agar-agar). So, Cougar it was.


8 cups water
2 cups (1 13.5 fl oz can) coconut milk (I use Chaokoh brand)
1 45g packet of agar-agar
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup palm sugar/dark brown sugar
1 Pandan leaf (screwpine leaf) tied into a knot

  1. Bring 8 cups of water to a vigorous boil.
  2. Add the palm/dark brown sugar, and stir till dissolved

  3. Stir it occasionally. Agar-agar should begin to dissolve.

  4. Meanwhile, make dry caramel (a very informative article on it by David Lebovitz) by cooking the granulated sugar in a saucepan on medium heat. Keep an eye on it because the sugar will melt and turn brown. Stir till sugar turns into a dark amber colored liquid. Quickly take the saucepan off the burner to stop it from burning.

  5. Stir the mixture when the hissing stops. (You can come closer to the pot now), Add in the knotted pandan leaf.

  6. Pour in the coconut milk. Stir till combined, for about 5-7 minutes.

  7. Pour into your desired dish/pan/mould through a fine sieve.

  8. Let cool so it can harden.

  9. Cut into desired shapes.

Cook's Notes:

  • You can use any dish/mould. Malaysians like to use interesting moulds to create interesting shaped agar-agar. I simply used my pyrex dish. You can also use fancy knives or cookie cutters to cut them into interesting shapes if you want.

  • If you do use a mould, gently slide a spread knife to slide it out of the mould onto a plate. Make sure you have the plate ready, or you might be chasing a runaway wobbly agar-agar on your table or worse yet, your kitchen floor! (thanks to my imagination)

  • Wonderingn how to clean that dirty sieve? Well, you may want to put the sieve under running cold water so the remaining agar-agar would cool and harden, and you can just peel it off before washing your sieve.

  • The Pandan leaf adds fragrance to the agar-agar. Omitting it would be akin to omitting vanilla essence, so do without it if you don't have any.

  • If you cook the mixture too long after pouring in the coconut milk, you might not get the two layered look in the picture above, but the taste will still be the same though.

Feast your eyes on these amazing agar-agar creations:

Lily Wai Sek Hong's Rainbow Agar-Agar
This agar-agar was sliced with what my kids would call a 'fancy' knife, hence the scalloped sides.

Lily's Wai Sek Hong's Agar-Agar Batik
This agar-agar depicts a batik pattern, a an artform mastered by the Indonesians and I would also say some Malaysians of the East Coastern regions.

Rose's Pandan Custard Agar-Agar from Rose's Kitchen

jthorge's Agar-Agar Talam from Jthorge's Kitchen

Boo_licious's entry: A plethora of fancy creations! from Masak-Masak
This Ramadan Bazaar takes place in hubby's old neighborhood too!

e's joie's Milo Agar-Agar from e's joie

Gifst From the Kitchen's Watermelon Shaped Pudding

Delicious Thai Agar-Agar from My Baking and Cooking Passion

Green Agar-Agar Made by a 13 year-old boy! from Food Haven

So what are you waiting for? Head on to the nearest Asian grocery store and purchase a packet of agar-agar, and let the cool kitchen creation begin!


  1. I ♥ agar agar! I used to have it all the time!! are you Indo/Malay??

  2. Khadijah, welcome to joy luck kitchen! well, I'm both :) but malaysian by nationality :)

    when you used to have it, were you around malaysians/indonesians?