Along with fellow pinay blogger Divina, I had the honor of choosing this months Kulinarya Cooking Club theme: suman. Suman is typically sweet sticky rice and coconut milk wrapped in banana or palm leaves. What’s interesting about this is that I’ve never actually made suman before, even though I grew up eating it because I had aunties who made it for special occasions.
Now I know why we only had it on special occasions: suman is a supreme pain in the ass to make. It sounds so easy: mix sticky rice with coconut milk and wrap it all up in leaves. I had no idea that I had a few hours ahead of me when I set out.
I decided to make the suman I grew up eating: I guess it’s called suman sa antala, which involves cooking the mixture of sticky rice and coconut milk, wrapping it in banana leaves, then steaming it. Other types of suman, including the popular suman sa ligia (suman made with lye water), involve placing the uncooked rice and coconut milk mixture in the leaves and then dropping the packets in boiling water to cook. I absolutely do not trust my banana-leaf-wrapping abilities, so I opted for the pre-cooked and steamed version so we wouldn’t end up with open banana leaves floating in a sticky rice boiling water mixture.
This is especially wussy of me because suman sa ibos is typically wrapped in palm leaf. Catholics out there know these leaves as the long skinny ones they hand out on Palm Sunday. Wrapping suman in this is truly an art — it should look like this photo and be totally watertight so you can drop it in boiling water without falling apart. That takes SKILLS.
For me, the most irritating step was the preparation of the banana leaves. I grew up eating suman that had a little square of banana leaf wrapped around it, then the whole thing was wrapped in foil. Now I realize why: the preparation of the banana leaves is what you might call time-consuming. You have to wipe down both sides of the giant banana leaves (believe me, you don’t want to skip this step — you’ll be amazed at the grossness that comes off those things) then run each one over an open flame to soften the leaf. Even though it took a while, there was something really therapeutic about this part — the singeing leaf kinda smelled like the Philippines. Weird but nice.
The suman wrapping actually went pretty fast after that. If you’ve ever rolled lumpia or tamales, you’ll have no problem with this. I don’t even know if I did it right, but hey, they looked like a bunch of green tamales, so close enough. I cut a small square of banana leaf (about 5 inches), then the larger square was about 10 inches by 10 inches. I used about 3 tablespoons of the rice mixture within the square. Can anyone educate me on the point of the little square inside the big square? Either way, it looked good when we unwrapped it.
I’m definitely making this again for special occasions. They look like pretty little tropical presents, and this would taste amazing sprinkled with sugar and eaten with Philippine mangoes.
makes about 18 suman
3 cups sticky rice, soaked for 30 minutes then rinsed
3 15-ounce (500 g) cans of coconut milk (I like Aroy D)
3 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 thawed 1-pound packet of frozen banana leaf (500 g), or fresh if you have access to it
- Combine the rice, coconut milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir the mixture constantly until it’s really thick and the rice is nearly cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. (It’ll be pretty hard to stir at this point.) Let the mixture cool to just warm or room temperature.
- Meanwhile, prepare the banana leaves. With a damp cloth, wipe the leaves down on both sides. Pass the leaves on both sides over a medium flame on the stove. The leaves will change color slightly and will be more pliable.
- Cut the leaves into 18 large squares (10-inch by 10-inch) and 18 small squares (5-inch by 5-inch). Also keep a large section of leaf available to tear into strips for tying the little suman packets shut. (You’ll need 2 ties for each packet.)
- Lay the small square in the center of the larger square. Both should have the matte side of the banana leaf face up (you want the shiny side on the outside of the suman). Measure 3 tablespoons of the rice mixture into the center and wrap the suman as shown in the photos.
- Steam the suman for 35 minutes. These freeze well, you can also store them in the fridge and heat them in the microwave before eating.
- Serve warm, sprinkled with sugar.