Suman is a steamed rice cake wrapped in banana leaves - it's a simple dish but a delicacy. It falls under the category of Kakanin which are rice products cooked with coconut milk and sugar (Kakanin coming from the word 'kanin' in Tagalog meaning rice). The Philippines being a country filled with rice fields, coming up with different ways of using up leftover crop was essential, which is why rice features heavily in Filipino cuisine, from using rice balls as a way of scooping up sauces and meat when eating by hand to delicious sweet, desserts. According to history, kakanin were made as a special offering to gods and due to their sticky texture, were symbolic with maintaining close ties between friends and family.
Suman - Discover this iconic recipe that has huge amounts of adaptations throughout the Philippines and is a staple in the kakanin dish family.
Banana leaf - Master the techniques to use and prepare banana leaves. You will toast it over an open flame to make it easy to work with and then create a natural string to tie your suman.
Preservation techniques - Learn how this ancient recipe used both sugar and banana leaf to preserve this sweet dish from the Philippines.
2x large high-sided pans, 1x spatular, 1x large chopping board, 3x mixing bowls, 1x bamboo steamer, 1x large tray, 1x chef knife, 1x scissors
No pre-lesson preparation needed.
Ok, let's get going with the suman recipe, making sure we have all our ingredients to hand. Into a large pot, add your coconut milk (reserving a small amount of coconut milk) and brown sugar. Give the pot a mix to combine and then add a pinch of salt.
Now, let's move over to the hob and bring our pot to the boil. Start with a high heat, and once it comes to the boil we can add our glutinous rice. So, now it's up to a rolling boil, the rice goes in and we're going to leave this to cook for 20 - 30 minutes. Keep stirring your rice - keeping it moving helps to stop any clumps forming and helps to release our gluten content. What's going to happen as we cook and evaporate the coconut milk is it will begin to split leaving only the fat behind, this will create a lovely sheen on the suman filling and give it a really rich mouth feel.
After a good 10 minutes or so, taste your suman for its sweetness and saltiness, if you feel it needs more sweetness add some sugar. Once you're happy with the flavour, drop the heat down to a low boil and allow the rice to cook out throughly keeping it moving all the time. You should start to see it thickening and becoming like a porridge, rice pudding or a fudge. Keep it moving.
By now we should have been cooking for 15 - 20 minutes, give it a taste and see if our rice is ready - it should have some bite to it and you should be able to feel the individual grains in your mouth. If it's nice to eat, what we need to do now is just thicken it up.
Keep cooking the rice and moving it around, you'll begin to see a shine to the mixture and the mass of rice slip around the pan when stirred, this is a good sign and we will only be a couple of minutes away.
Grab a metal tray and continue to cook out until you have a thick porridgy consistency and your rice has a slight bite to it. Decant into your tray and allow to cool (if it's not raining and a cool temperature - pop it outside).
Put your stove on and grab your banana leaf, pass the banana leaf over the open flame, toast the leaf and allow it to become shiny. Now, move it over to our worktop and we can cut it down to size, this will be our suman wrapping paper.
Cut a section of the leaf with the tip of our knife, about the size of 2 A4 sheets of paper or enough to be able to fold the leaf 3 times around our rice mix. You may need to toast some more of the banana leaf to make some string from it, if so, you can quickly do so now.
If you look at the leaf, you will see it has little sections to it, this is what we are going to use to make our string, remove the outer stem with your knife and then break away the segments from the leaf. Leave to one side and check your suman mix.
If the rice mix is cold, carry on with the next step of the recipe, if it isn't, pause your video until it's cool.
Place the leaf onto your board length ways and then put a spoonful of the suman mix into the centre of the leaf, leaving excess on both the sides and below the suman. Take the leaf from the bottom and then we are going to just roll it up the length of the leaf, looking for about 3 or 4 turns. Once rolled, cut the excess leaf. Pinch and squeeze either side of the rice filling and with the seam of the parcel facing up, fold the end of the leaves over and roll over on itself so the folds sit tight on the board.
Grab your banana leaf string, and place the string underneath one end of the parcel and then tie together (how you would a shoe lace). Repeat on the other side and then repeat the wrapping process using up all of your suman filling.
(Check my notes for the step-by-step guide)
Once you have two evenly-sized suman, let's tie them together before they get steamed. Trim any excess bits of the string, being carful not to tug away at the knot. Take the folded sides of your suman and place them together. Taking another piece of string, tie them together gently at either end and there you have it. They are ready to steam!
Now, let's set up our steamer. Grab your bamboo steamer and a large pot. Add some water to the pot, enough to boil up and create some steam (a few inches). Place onto a high heat and get that going, bring to the boil.
Place the suman into the steamer ready to go for when our pan comes to the boil. Place the steamer over the pan and then cover - we want to cook this for 20 - 30 minutes.
Over 20 or so minutes check your suman, you are looking for the parcels to be firm and aromas to be filling your kitchen. Leave to cool for 10 minutes before cutting open.
Using some scissors, cut the string and gently unwrap your suman. Once unwrapped you will be greeted with a set rice pudding that has a lovely sheen to it and a light caramel colour. Crumble a touch of brown sugar over the top and then serve.
This is such an ancient recipe that has been eaten for hundreds of years in the Philippines. The first method of preservation in the dish is the high level of sugar, making an inhospitable environment for bacteria to grow in.
There are thought to be more than 100,000 distinct varieties of rice throughout the world. Glutinous rice is a short-grain with starch that is nearly all amylopectin (highly water-soluble sugars). This type of rice requires the least amount of water (1 - 1 by weight or volume). Despite its name it does not contain any gluten.
This will take a couple of minutes to come up to a rolling boil be patient and keep an eye on your pan, stirring regularly. You will also begin to smell the aromas of the coconut milk fill your kitchen.
We need to treat this dish a bit like a risotto (only difference being you add all your liquid at once with a suman), we want to be constantly stirring it, bruising the granules of rice and releasing the starch that will begin to thicken our dish.
Add salt and sugar to the suman stock or broth whilst it's cooking if you feel there isn't enough flavour to it.
If we boil our coconut mixture too rapidly we will evaporate all the liquid before it's had a chance to cook the rice - if you feel it's too dry, add a touch of water.
You'd often see suman being cooked in massive woks or pots in the Philippines.
As I said above, feel free to add a touch of water where needed.
You want to have texture to your rice, the rice will be cooked a second time in the steamer so if we over cook it at this stage we may run the risk of it turning to mush inside the banana leaf.
Slip and Shine
We are looking for a shine on our rice mixture from the fat in the coconut and then when we stir it, the whole mass of rice should move as one and almost slip and slide around your pan - at this point we should only be a few minutes away.
Kakanin or rice puddings can be seen in huge variety across the regions in the Philippines - get researching on how to be creative with your shaping and flavourings.
I really encourage you to look at mine in the video and get your consistency as close to mine as possible.
When leaving your rice to cool, place it into a large flat tray where you can get the rice spread out thinly, this will allow it too cool quickly and stop the cooking process quicker.
Full of antioxidants, banana leaves are incredibly versatile. They are used as way of serving, wrapping and cooking all over the world. They are also known to have preservative qualities helping keep food fresh for long periods of time.
When heated, the leaves will begin to shine as the natural oils are released, this not only adds flavour to the suman but also makes it easier to wrap.
1. Toast the leaf over an open flame on your hob holding it away from the direct heat.
2. Move the banana leaf across the heat releasing the natural oils and aromas.
3. Cut to the size needed using the tip of your knife before rolling.
4. If you are making the string, cut the thick stem away from the leaf with the tip of your knife
5. Peel the segments of leaf and then leave to one side.
If your rice is taking a while to cool down, place it into your fridge or keep stirring it allowing plenty of air to circulate around the rice and cool it down.
The suman mix needs to be cold enough for us to handle and also cool so the mixture begins to thicken up to a thick paste. That way it is easier to roll.
I'd recommend watching the wrapping segment of this video before attempting to wrap your first suman.
Be careful when tying with the banana leaf string we don't want it to snap or break the parcel.
1. Take one of your toasted pieces of banana leaf and place it onto your surface, shiny side up.
2. Spoon a portion of the suman filling into the centre of your leaf about an inch or so away from the bottom and leaving excess to each side.
3. Spread the rice out into a log shape (keeping the excess space on either side).
4. Now, we start to roll from the bottom, keeping the rice tightly encapsulated.
5. Roll 3 - 4 times to the top of the leaf and then cut any of the excess leaf away with the tip of your knife.
6. Pinch to the edge of the rice, lightly squeezing the rice into the centre and then fold each side of the banana leaf over.
7. Roll the parcel over onto its belly.
8.Tie with your string, going under the parcel and tying a knot. Repeat on the other side.
Use scissors when trimming the string.
The steam will continue to release the oils from our banana leaf which will add loads more flavour to the rice inside. It has a real floral fragrance to it.
Leave your suman to cool slightly and firm up in texture.
This dish can be eaten hot or cold and will keep for many days.