Paper Chef: beetroot and ginger kuih with apple purée

I’ve been following the monthly Paper Chef event for quite a while now. You are given four primary ingredients with which to create a dish. After the announcement of the ingredients, you have about a week to present your idea. It’s about the food, not the photography. Some very interesting dishes from entrants all over the world have won. Last month’s winner, Pia of Serendipity, Synchronicity and Saffron, is this month’s host.

This month the ingredients were

  • beetroot
  • ginger
  • rice
  • apple

I loved this selection! All flavours marry well, at least in some forms.

Beetroot is simultaneously lovely and tricky. It’s cell structure means that it doesn’t happily soften like many other vegetables or fruit and nor does it form a smooth paste when blitzed. This meant that texture could be an issue. It can also taste strongly earthy if served plain. Ginger plays well with the earthy notes, helping to bring out some sweetness and complexity. Apple is a friend of both, but combining them in a way which was more than, say, a salad was a welcome challenge. And there was the rice…

I pondered soups, but felt the rice was a problem. I contemplated making a type of mochi (Japanese riceflour balls) filled with the other ingredients. And I thought about stuffing whole roasted beetroots, but felt I was dwelling too much on form over flavour. Finally, I decided to try creating something vaguely similar to the layered Malaysian/Indonesian kuih (some kuih are layered ‘cakes’ of rice and a flavoured paste or agar jelly, but there are many other types as well).

Beetroot and ginger layered kuih with apple purée

Find a slice tray, bread or cake pan with walls at least 4cm high. The total volume required is approx 600ml. I used a loaf pan 17cm long x 10cm wide.

Coconut rice

  • Place 250ml of good coconut milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a gentle boil.
  • Add 125ml of jasmine rice, stir, then simmer very gently for approx 10 mins.
  • When there is just a little liquid still left, cover the saucepan tightly and turn off the heat. Leave for 20 mins.
  • Line your slice tray or pan with foil. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bit crinkly. The foil needs to reach about 5cm up the sides.
  • Make a well-packed even layer of rice in the tray, about 1-1.5cm high.
  • Note that the rice may taste somewhat savoury or just rather plain. The rest of the dish will compensate for that.

Beetroot and ginger jelly

  • Peel one smallish beetroot (about 180gm), then grate. I used a medium ribbon Microplane grater.
  • Trim and then slice approx 2cm of fresh ginger (about 8gm) into 2mm slices.
  • Place in a saucepan with 1 litre of water and 50gm of sugar. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
  • Simmer until tender, approx 20min.
  • Using a slotted spoon, remove the beetroot and ginger to a small bowl. Discard the pieces of ginger.
  • Pour the liquid into a measuring jug. Keep 500ml and discard the rest.
  • Return the 500ml of liquid to the saucepan.
  • Keep the liquid hot, but not boiling, and briskly whisk in 10gm (17ml) of powdered gelatine*.
  • Keep stirring until the crystals have completely dissolved. Add the beetroot and allow the liquid to cool gradually.
  • When the beetroot and liquid starts to thicken, pour over the layer of rice and smooth the surface. The beetroot layer will be about 1cm deep. The liquid may seep into the rice, depending on how thick it is when you pour it on. Though the separation of layers is less pretty (see photos) it makes for interesting colours!
  • Refrigerate until set, approx 2 hours.
  • * The amount of gelatine you need will depend on the brand. I used a product where 10gm powder sets 500ml of water. Note that kuih jellies/set purées would usually use agar or other non-gelatine setting agents. Agar jellies are generally firmer and less elastic. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any agar to hand while making this, and I can’t decide which option would be best texturally. Agar is the better choice if concerned about dietary/religious acceptability.

Apple purée

  • Peel and core two mildly sweet apples suitable for cooking, e.g. Royal Gala or Braeburn. You want an apple with a touch of tartness.
  • Chop into pieces and add to a saucepan with 125ml water and 20ml good coconut milk.
  • Cover and simmer gently until soft. Add extra water if necessary.
  • Take a 1cm lump of crystallised ginger (or preserved stem ginger). Trim off the sugar-coated surfaces. Grate or chop into fine pieces.
  • When the apple is of a mashable consistency, uncover and let any remaining liquid evaporate.
  • Add the chopped ginger and then mash the apple.


  • When the jelly has set, spread the apple purée evenly over the jelly. The layer will be about 0.5cm deep. Chill for an hour.
  • Lift the kuih (in its foil) out of the pan. Place the foil package on a chopping board. Gently pull the foil walls away from the kuih.
  • At this point you can either carefully transfer the kuih from the foil to a serving platter, or (more safely) cut the kuih into 3cm squares and then lift each piece off.


This sweet presents a very different flavour profile from a traditional kuih, so I hope readers won’t mind me using that label for this dish. For one thing, this is less sweet than traditional kuih (which can be quite a sugar-shock for a Northern European palate, at least!). My attempt to offset the sweetness of the rice and beetroot by using a slightly tart, ginger-warm apple purée is also within Western approaches to balancing sweetness with other elements.

9 thoughts on “Paper Chef: beetroot and ginger kuih with apple purée”

  1. Thanks! I’m happy you decided to participate, I hope you will continue doing it, what a beginning! A very interesting and enticing entry!

  2. Very clever! I love the colours, and the combination of flavours sounds enticing. Paper Chef has somehow slipped past my radar. I’d love to give it a go some time!

  3. Pretty inspired concoction Duncan! Perhaps a pinch of salt into the coconut creamed rice to give it a slight savoury edge (as used in many nonya-style desserts) would also help offset the sweetness quotient?

  4. Duncan,
    I am too late to discover what it seems like an exciting and maybe challenging (?) event.
    When I saw the list of the ingredients, I thought I could make rice pilaf, but that sound so boring and doesn’t sound too appetizing either!
    I must say that you are quite creative Duncan, this recipe sounds very interesting. I would never imagined to use beet as kuih/kue. I guess I have to prove it, to be able to say “wow Duncan, that’s really taste so good”

  5. Thanks everyone! I must say, elra, that I wouldn’t have though of beetroot and kuih if it hadn’t been for the rice and ginger in the list… they immediately shot me in a SE-Asian direction.

    @Towser: actually, there is a little salt in the rice! I just forgot to mention it in the recipe. Must fix:)

  6. this looks amazing and I love the sound of the flavour combinations – don’t know the kuih that you speak of but I suspect I would prefer your less sweet version

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