Indian coconut and jaggery panna-cotta | pudding | flan | jelly

My daughter, as you might know already is allergic to gluten, dairy and most nuts. This cuts off some delicacies for her, though not all. With my inclination to not use xanthan gum, the limitation only increases. What I cannot make for her, I make up by making other desserts she likes, as many times as she likes. That is quite a few times!

For ages now I have been wishing to make mousse and though non-dairy-soy-cream allows me to do that, it does not make me cent percent happy. I am reminded even as I relish, that it is synthetic. For long I have been on the look out for agar-agar flakes. Agar is a gelling agent made from a sea-weed, used extensively in Asian cuisine. It is known as ‘kanten’ in Japan, ‘dai choy goh’ in China, and ‘China grass’ in India. I used to get it at my local kirana shop till about six years back, and for some reason, no one seems to be stocking it anymore.

Last week presented me with an opportunity to visit Parel, and after my work was over I went to Food Hall, a shop in Palladium Mall, just because I knew they would have agar-agar. Only they did not know it was easily available in India and all they had in stock was an imported variety. This was in the form of small flakes. I bought it only because we haven’t had puddings and the like for nearly six years! Jr.H and Jr.P were both pleased as a punch. This, they knew, was a huge indulgence. It burned a hole in my pocket, but on the positive side, it is organic and works great.

Ever since, Jr.H and I have been wrapping our heads around several ideas. I kept reminding her that it had to be Indian flavours, and I had to remain true to my ‘veganmofo’ theme. At last we settled on making a mousse with coconut milk. “Use jaggery,” Jr.H said. I knew I would use cardamom too. Jaggery has a strong, earthy sweetness, and cardamom compliments it perfectly.

Before I got on to make the dessert, I googled to check whether anyone else has tried it. And guess what? Turns out that it is a famous Malay dessert! So much for my ‘eureka’ moment. In Malaysia jaggery is replaced with gula melaka or gula merrah. In Europe you could try using  voll-rohrzucker, or unrefined cane sugar. I followed google to a recipe on ‘My Kitchen Snippets‘. It was what I intended to make, so I used the same quantity of agar as given in that recipe. I however decided to go ahead with cardamom powder added to the jaggery.

If I made this again the only change I would make is adding 3 tsps. of agar powder instead of 2.5 tsps., and simmering for 5-6 minutes instead of 3 minutes. As you can see in the photograph below, the last mould into which I poured the jelly had some flakes that were not completely dissolved. It wasn’t much, but for the perfect mousse, it could have been avoided by simmering for another 2 mins. I also felt that my jelly was a little wobbly. I did not  listen to my instinct that told me to go with 3 tsps. of agar. Small mistake. I have made the adjustment in the recipe below. Did these affect the taste? No! My jelly was firm till I cut it, and it melted in the mouth.

I served it to P’s cousin U, who visited this evening and he absolutely loved it.

Recipe: Indian coconut and jaggery panna cotta | pudding | flan | jelly
Serves: 8 small dessert portions
(I used small pudding moulds. Kulfi moulds or jelly pans are fine too)


Coconut milk (first extract) – 85g | 1/2 cup
Coconut milk (second extract) – 62g | 1/3 cup
(Mix the two together)
Water – 300ml
Jaggery – 100g
Agar-agar flakes – 3 tsps.
Green cardamom, podded and powdered – 1/8 tsp.


Clean and keep moulds ready as this gets done in under 10 minutes, and needs to be poured immediately.

Mix water, jaggery, cardamom powder and agar-agar in a steel saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer for 6 minutes or till the agar-agar completely dissolves in the liquid. Sieve through a fine strainer to remove impurities from the jaggery.

Put the sieved liquid back into the saucepan, and place on heat. Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil, stirring lightly, on medium heat. Immediately pour into the moulds, or jelly pan.

Set aside undisturbed for 2-2.5hrs till the jelly is set, at room temperature. Place in refrigerator once set, and serve when cold enough.

It will form two layers.  One with jaggery-water, and one with the coconut cream. The top parts tastes like panagam set into a mousse.

Jr.H had planned that I should also sprinkle raw sugar and use the blow torch once it was set, but we could not wait to dig in. We had got a taste from the liquid stuck to the pan, after pouring into the moulds and it was creamy and delicious. Obviously could not wait.

It can be set in a tray or plate and served this way too: The black specks are cardamom powder.

This makes a great dessert for little children too. It does not contain processed foods, no refined sugar and it has the rich goodness of coconut milk.


Harini is a vegan food photographer, writer and recipe developer. She also loves feeding birds, reading, watching crime thrillers, and travelling amongst other things.

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  • Radhika

    Kuch lapis legit, is more like Goan Bibinca. It came with the Portuguese- and became localized. In India it’s made with coconut milk and jaggery and egg yolks, and here it’s eggs, condensed milk and loads of butter.
    Indonesia has its own kueh or kue legit, which originated with the Dutch spekkoek.
    I am fascinated with how cuisines evolved with travelers of the past.
    Yes, I live in Singapore now.

  • bhatsi

    You are right. One gets to see lot of similarities.
    here they make rice dumplings similar to our kozhakattai.
    do u get glutinous rice flour in Mumbai. Otherwise I can
    send it over with my friend who will coming there in Nov

    • Harini

      We do not get glutinous rice flour and I really appreciate if you can do that. I am writing you a mail regarding this. Thank you!

  • Bharathi

    This one I am going to try…looks so yummy! pity its so hard to get Agar-agar in India. when we young it used to be quite commonly available cos my mom at one point of time would make ‘china grass’ often.
    Btw – Radhika do you stay in Singapore. You must referring to Kueh lapis right.

    @ Harini- South East Asian cuisine has a delightful variety of sweets and steamed cakes- many of them made from rice flour, coconut water/milk and jaggery/gula

    • Harini

      What ever china grass I find seems to have colouring. However, today a friend told me it is easily available at Crawford Mkt. Will check up. Thanks for those links, Bharathi. I will check them.

      I found that the first link is what we call ‘paal kozhakottai’, which my daughter loves and I have been meaning to post.
      We make the second one too. It is a neer dosa crepe rolled in coconut and sugar, but we simply roll it and this kind of rolling definitely makes it look so much prettier! I will follow it from now on.
      The third recipe is new.

      I am glad you posted those links. I didn’t know that we had so many similar recipes!

  • Radhika

    Tell you what, I’ll get you agar agar or carrageen when I come to Bombay next. Check out Thai desserts made with agar agar.
    There is also something called Konnyaku powder (it’s a tapioca starch) that is used as a gelling agent. It makes the most beautiful, clear, glasslike jellies in which you can suspend chunks of bright fruit.

    I don’t understand why these don’t have a huge market in India, considering so many of us HATE the idea of using gelatine.

    Check out these links.

    The first is made with agar agar, and the second uses Konnyaku.

    Konayaku has a crisp texture– it’s not squishy and wobbly like jelly. And make a very low calorie dessert, especially if you don’t use coconut milk.

    Here, most food courts have a fruit juice stall, and they normally stock these many layered “cakes” in the most delightful colours- a layer of purple, topped with a layer that has coconut milk mixed in, which lightens the colour, then another layer of the plain purple….you get the picture.

    Your kids will be able to enjoy these with no after effects!


    • Harini

      Radhika, I have been checking up Thai desserts too! Konnyaku powder is new to me. I will look up the links. I can imagine the layered jellys. Must look beautiful. And thank you for the very generous offer, Radhika! Would be lovely to meet you in person too.

  • Ashwini

    Harini, I have been stalking your blog for a while now. Not only are your pictures good, the recipes are delicious. I almost always make something from here on a weekly basis and I haven’t been disappointed.

    For the above recipe could I use canned coconut milk?

    Also, would you have happen to have any recipes that use pomegranate molasses?

    • Harini

      Thank you, Ashwini! It is heartening to read that and makes me very happy. Yes, you can use canned coconut milk here, but I feel canned coconut milk does not have the burst of flavour fresh milk has. I haven’t used pomegranate molasses but I am on the look out for it.

  • Poornima

    Love this one Harini, nothing beats the flavors of coconut, jaggery and cardamom!

    • Harini

      Right! Nothing works as well as this. 🙂

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