Suman Sa Lihiya is a Filipino sweet sticky rice cake steamed in a banana leaf.
It has wonderful chewy, gooey, sticky texture which comes from treating the rice in lihiya, or lye water.
Unfortunately, lye water is not easy to find in the U.S. Although it is not dangerous at this concentration, some people don't like the idea of ingesting a substance which shares the same active ingredient as Drano.
You have probably consumed lye before: it's used to make olives, pretzels, and various Asian noodles, such as ramen and lo mein.
1In a medium to large sized bowl, soak the rice in just enough water to cover it. For convenience, you can soak the rice in the same pot that you will cook it in later. Cover with plastic wrap or lid, and soak overnight.
2To make Lihiya Spread 1/4 cup of baking soda on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake in an oven at 250 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 1 hour. When it is done baking, let cool. Transfer baked soda to an airtight, non-metallic container. You can use it to make Asian alkaline noodles (such as ramen) and other kinds of rice cakes. Avoid breathing this in or getting it in your mouth, eyes, or skin. It isn't dangerous, but it may be irritating.
3Make the "Lye Water" Solution Do this only after the rice is almost done soaking. Mix 2 teaspoons baked baking soda in 2 tablespoons of hot water. Mix until fully dissolved and the water is clear and no longer cloudy. Save the rest of the baked soda in an airtight container. You can use it as a substitute for alkali salts to make Asian alkali noodles (such as ramen and Hokkien mee) and other kinds of rice cakes. Immediately move on to Step 6.
4Drain and Soak Again Drain as much water as you can from the rice without it spilling into the sink. Add 2 1/2 to 3 cups of fresh water to the rice. Add 1 tablespoon of lye water or lye water substitute you made in Step 5, and stir to evenly distribute. The rice and water may take on a yellowish tinge.
5Soak for half an hour.
6Cook transfer rice to pot if it is not already in one. On a stove, with the burner on medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil, constantly stirring the rice so that it does not burn or stick to the pot. Once it comes to a boil, turn bring it down to medium heat. Continue to stir the rice to keep it from sticking. If the rice does end up sticking, use a spatula to scrape up the stuck stuff as you are cooking. Mix it in with the rest of the rice. Do this for about 2 to 3 minutes.
7Add Coconut Milk After cooking the rice for about 3 minutes, add one can of coconut milk or coconut cream to the rice. Continue stirring on medium heat.
8Add Sugar After mixing the coconut milk or cream in thoroughly, add 1 to 3 (or more) tablespoons of sugar to the rice, depending on how sweet you want it. Do not add more than 5 tablespoons of sugar! The sugar we are adding now is only to give the plain rice cake a light sweetness, as later you can drizzle a syrup on the finished cake or sprinkle sugar on it. Mix the sugar thoroughly throughout the rice. Cook the rice until it is half cooked. (It should have the texture of undercooked rice or rice not cooked with enough water) It will start to smell very good at this point.
9Cool it Down Turn off the heat and cover the pot to the rice steam itself. After 5 minutes, uncover the pot, and let the rice cool down to a workable temperature as you work on Steps 11 and 12
10Cut and Wash Leaves Open both packages of thawed banana leaves. Using your outstretched thumb and forefinger( about 16 to 18 cm or 6 1/3 to 7 inches), measure the leaves into roughly equal widths and cut in the same direction as the veins. Make about 20 to 25 0f these. Avoid using cuts that have multiple tears, but save them. Save any unused leaves in case you need to make more. Wash the leaves well in warm water to remove dirt and dust.
11Cut Out Ties Using leaves that are ripped, or extra leaves, make strips of leaf by simple cutting or tearing down the leaf. Ideally, these should be about a half centimeter thick. If they are to thin, they will snap when tying. If they are 1 centimeter or wider, they will be to hard to tie tightly. Set aside. You're almost done! Let's start wrapping!
12Wrap It! This is easier than wrapping a present. Wipe down the banana leaf, and scoop 1/4 cup of the partially cooked rice onto it. Using wet fingers so the rice doesn't stick them, make the rice into a little log in the center of the leaf in the same direction as the veins. Do not make it too thick or too thin. Leave room on the ends of the leaf, as you will be folding them over later. Tightly fold along the veins, following the other pictures:
- Tightly fold over the sides parallel to the log
- Tightly fold over the ends.
Repeat this with the other leaves and the rest of the rice. If a leaf has a minor tear, place an undamaged leaf under the rice log to patch it up.
13Tie Them Up Pair up suman of similar length and tie them together on both ends,their folded ends facing each other. Tie them with your banana leaf strips using a double knot. If using cotton string, use an easy to remove knot, such as a shoelace knot. Make sure that they are tightly tied and "snuggled" together. Cut excess string or leaf from the ties. Repeat with the rest of the suman
14Steam n a wok, pot, or steamer pot, bring water to a low to medium boil. Place If using a pot or wok, place steamer on top. Fit as many suman pairs as you can into the steamer. (You can even stack them.) Steam for half an hour. Make sure that you check the water level now and then, adding boiling water as needed.
If your steamer is small, it may be helpful to have several steamers going at the same time.
15Eat It! After half an hour, remove suman from steamer and let allow them to cool down enough so you can hold them. Remove ties and separate the pairs into individual pieces. There are two ways to eat this:
1) Unfold one of the ends, then peel the leaf down as you wold peel a banana. Eat plain,or dip in sugar and / or freshly grated coconut.
2) Completely unwrap the suman so that it is sitting on the leaf. Eat plain or add any toppings you want. (Use a spoon or fork!)
Common toppings used for suman are fresh grated mature coconut, sugar, latik, coconut syrup, palm sugar syrup etc.
Any kind of simple syrup can be used, although I'm not quite sure if maple syrup would work. Suman also goes very well with mangoes and bananas. If any of you make this, let me know how it turns out!