Steamed Pumpkin with Custard (soy or coconut)
Khmer Dessert - Cambodian Sonkya Lepov

An easy to make and common dessert enjoyed by Cambodians but not yet well known to foreigners is Sonkya Lepov or Steamed Pumpkin with Custard. This vegan dessert is one of the oldest and more traditional dishes in Khmer cuisine that has similar commonalities with other desserts across other Southeast Asian countries. The great thing about this vegan dessert is that it is quick and easy to make, doesn’t require a lot of time and can feed 4-8 people…depending on the size of the pumpkin or people’s appetites.

To begin preparing this dish, we need to mix all our dry ingredients first. In a mixing bowl we will add one cup of rice flour, half a cup of sugar and a quarter of a cup of tapioca starch. Potato starch will also work, but if you want to follow the traditional recipe, then stick to tapioca starch. Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl to make sure everything is mixed well together. Now pour in one cup of water and one small bottle of soy milk or approximately three hundred milliliters. If you want to use a bigger amount of soy milk, go ahead but just be sure to add less water. Traditionally this dish is actually made with coconut milk and the measurements and amounts would apply the same if you prefer to use coconut milk. For our recipe, however, we will use soy milk because it is more available for people around the world but even more importantly, soy milk is a bit more FODmap friendly compared to coconut milk and so creates less problems for people suffering from different digestive and stomach problems. Once the water and soy milk or coconut milk is added into the mixing bowl, stir and mix the dry ingredients with the water and soy milk until the mixture turns smooth without any large lumps. Make sure there are no lumps. Stir like crazy if you have to.

Once the custard mixture is ready, let’s tackle the pumpkin. What we want to do is to fill the inside of the pumpkin with our custard mixture while retaining the unpierced shape of the pumpkin the best we can. To be able to do this, we will have to cut a hole at the top of the pumpkin where the stem is. If you are able to, cut a round hole or otherwise a square shaped hole at the top. The hole should be big enough for you to fit a table spoon inside the pumpkin but not much bigger. Keep the whole stem part of the pumpkin that you cut out as well as this will in effect function as a lid. Once you’ve successfully cut your hole, remove the stem ‘lid’ part and set it aside. With a tablespoon, go on to scoop out any seeds or other soft a fleshy parts of the pumpkin and throw them out. When you’re finished, you can pour in the custard mixture inside the pumpkin and close the stem ‘lid’ on the top.

Now it is time to steam our pumpkin and to complete our dessert. If you have a food steamer or a rice cooker with a steam container at the top, these will produce the best results but you can also use a large cooking pot. For the purpose of this recipe, we will outline how to steam the pumpkin with a rice cooker, but if you need to use a large cooking pot, you can fill it with 2-3 cups of water so the pumpkin is only a quarter of the way submerged and set it to boil. Put the pumpkin inside your cooking pot and let it boil for 20-30 minutes. With a rice cooker this is much easier. Pour in about 300ml of water, place the pumpkin in the upper steaming chamber, close the lid and set the rice cooker to cook for about 20 minutes. Ideally, you will not have to open your cooking pot or rice cooker for the duration of the 20 minutes. This is in order to preserve the steam and heat inside to make sure it makes the pumpkin nice and soft. After 20 minutes, open the rice cooker and open the pumpkin stem ‘lid’ to check whether the custard inside has become for solid or similar consistency to a fried egg, also with a fork, gently poke somewhere at the top of the pumpkin to make sure its soft. If the pumpkin still appears a bit hard, you can steam it for another 10 minutes or so, but if the pumpkin appears soft, then the steaming process is complete. 

Take the pumpkin carefully out of the steamer by holding it underneath, remember that after it has steamed, it is not hard and strong as before. Place it gently on a table or cutting board and cut it into 4-6 slices. As you cut it, the hardened custard filling should stick to each slice as you separate them. Your Sonkya Lepov or Steamed Pumpkin with Custard is now ready to be enjoyed. 


0.5 cups of sugar

1 Pumpkin

300 – 500 ml of soymilk or coconut milk

0.25 cups of tapioca starch

1 cup of rice flour

1 cup of water


  1. In a mixing bowl, mix in your tapioca starch, rice flour and sugar
  2. Pour in the soy milk and water into the mixing bowl and mix well with all the ingredients making sure that the flour and tapioca starch aren’t forming any lumps
  3. Cut a round or square hole at the top of the pumpkin where the stem is. Try doing this in a way where the piece you cut out can be reused as a sort ‘lid’ for the pumpkin, just like with a jack-o-lantern carving typically used for halloween in USA.
  4. With a spoon, clean out the inside of the pumpkin to remove all seeds 
  5. Once the pumpkin has been cleaned out well inside, pour in the soymilk mixture inside the pumpkin and cover it with the ‘lid’ like top piece that was cut out
  6. Place the pumpkin in a steamer and let it steam for 20-40 minutes, you can remove the ‘lid’ of the pumpkin and check whether the soymilk mixture has hardened and become more custard like
  7. Once the pumpkin is finished being steamed, remove it from the steamer, cut it into slices and enjoy


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