Pengat Labu: A tasty gluten-free, vegan pumpkin dessert

Pumpkin pengat – one bowl may not be enough.

“Pengat” generally refers to a sweet, coconut milk porridge, and popular varieties include those made with pumpkin, banana, tapioca as well as the undisputed king of fruit, durian.

This version of pumpkin pengat is on-trend for being gluten-free and vegan, and the ingredients are minimally processed, if at all, including the sweetening ingredient of palm sugar, which is a great lower GI alternative to regular white or brown sugar.


  • 500 g (roughly half of a 1.4 kg whole medium) pumpkin
  • 44 g dried sago pearls
  • 200 ml coconut milk
  • 90 g (1/3 cup + 1/4 cup) pure coconut palm sugar (gula merah)
  • 6 g (1 large) pandan leaf, knotted
  • 720 ml (3 cups) water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Peeling the pumpkin

  • Take a whole pumpkin and cut it in half and then half again.
  • Remove seeds and stringy bits with a spoon. Discard.
  • Using a sharp knife, carefully slice off the stem (if any) and skin, removing as much of the green parts as possible.
  • Cut pumpkin into roughly 3 cm by 3 cm cubes.
Remove pumpkin skin with a sharp knife.


  • In a small to medium-sized pot (make sure it fits all the pumpkin), combine water, sago, salt and knotted pandan leaf. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
  • Once most of the sago pearls have turned translucent, about two minutes, add the pumpkin.
  • Continue to cook over medium heat until the pumpkin cubes are soft and cooked through, about seven to eight minutes. The pumpkin is sufficiently cooked when it can be easily pierced with a fork without any resistance.
  • Turn the heat down to low and add the coconut palm sugar and coconut milk and stir to mix.
  • Stirring occasionally, cook until coconut palm sugar has melted and coconut milk comes to a boil, about five minutes. Immediately turn off the heat. It is very important to keep an eye on this step as the coconut milk could split. If it starts to look a little grainy, it’s time to take it off the heat.
  • Serve while still warm, scooping a mix of pumpkin, sago and creamy coconut milk into each bowl.


  • Pumpkins lose a lot of weight once they have been deseeded and peeled, which is why it is important to start out with a heavier whole pumpkin.
  • Adjust the cooking time according to the type of pumpkin used. The important thing is to make sure it is cooked through before adding the sugar and coconut milk.
  • Adjust for sweetness and saltiness in step four, after the coconut milk has gone in. Start with less salt and sugar and add more if needed once the coconut milk has gone in and is mixed through. Just be quick to avoid overcooking the coconut milk.
  • More sago pearls can be added.
  • Sago pearls are not the same as tapioca pearls. They are made from two different plants. Tapioca pearls also tend to be chewier and denser than sago. In a pinch, tapioca pearls can be used as a substitute for sago, but use the small variety (keeping in mind that they will expand when cooked) and be prepared to get the stink-eye from a pengat purist makcik.

This article first appeared in Butterkicap is a food and culture platform and community that enables anyone to experience Malaysia through stories of her people, food and places.