Wrapped tightly in banana leaves and carefully steamed for almost an hour, the aroma of a Suman rice cake exudes every time you peel its layers. The aroma is undeniably sweet and enticing.
Taking a bite proves to be even more rewarding as the taste of the sweet rice comforts and subsides your hunger.
Suman won’t leak nor spill as it is conveniently wrapped, so anyone can just bring it anywhere and eat it whenever hunger strikes. Filipinos refer to the convenience as “Pang-tawid Gutom” or quick snack for hunger. For me, Suman can never go wrong…well, when eating it. Cooking it is a whole different experience.
Suman (pronounced “Soo-mahn”) is usually glutinous rice cooked in coconut milk and tightly wrapped and steamed in banana leaves. I say “usually” because Suman has many varieties. Aside from sweet rice, you can use cassava, or purple yam. Aside from banana leaves, you can wrap with young palm leaves or “Ibus”. You may also mix in a little bit of lye, and call it “Suman sa Lihia” or “Suman in Lye”. I chose to go with the version I am most familiar with, “Suman sa Gata” or “Suman in Coconut Milk”.
The cooking process involves delicate procedures but once you grasp what works and what doesn’t, everything becomes easy. Don’t worry, the recipe below will help you make the perfect wrap.
- 3 cups of glutinous rice
- 1 can of coconut milk
- 1 pinch of salt
- 6-8 tbsp of white sugar (or brown if you prefer)
- 1 pack of Banana Leaves (sold at most Asian grocery stores)
- vegan butter (so the leaves won’t stick)
- string, or in my case I used strands of the banana leaves to tie the wraps
- Soak the glutinous rice for about 20-30 minutes
- In a pot over medium heat, simmer the coconut milk and salt
- Add the rice and simmer for about 3-5 minutes, mixing occasionally
- Lower the heat, add the sugar and keep mixing.
- Do NOT cook the rice. Just make sure all the coconut milk is absorbed and the mixture turns thick and creamy. Turn off the heat, you are now ready to wrap the Suman.
- Trim the banana leaves to about 4 x 7 inch rectangles. Wipe any residue with a clean damp cloth.
- Spread some butter on the leaves so the mixture won’t stick.
- Add about 2 tbsp of rice in the middle of the leaf lining it vertically and parallel to the 7 inch length.
- Starting with the sides, roll the leaves and wrap the rice as tightly as possible. Fold the top and bottom part of the leaves and securely tie both sides with a string. Repeat the process for the rest of the rice mixture.
- In a steamer with generous amount of water, place the Suman wraps and steam over medium heat for about 45 minutes. Make sure to cover tightly and only minimal steam escapes the pot.
- Let it cool and Enjoy!
The first time I tried, I mistakenly thought the rice should be completely cooked before wrapping. I kept adding water so the rice will soften. After steaming, the Suman ended up too soggy and mushy. The second try however, carried the right texture. Now I know to keep the rice grain texture intact.
Once I got the right formula, I steamed a whole bunch and brought them down to the Filipino Community Center in San Francisco for an event called “Thanksgiving for Caregiving” last Wednesday, November 23rd.
Chris and I were honored to attend and serve my humble Suman creation. After all, Suman is best enjoyed when shared.