Suman sa ibus, the Filipino sticky rice log only has three ingredients : sticky rice, coconut milk, salt. Ideally this type of suman (say “sooh-man”)) is wrapped in coconut leaves. The wrapping in itself is an art form. But for purposes of cooking suman here in my American kitchen, I had to make do with banana leaves, which I purchased frozen from the Asian markets. If we were in the Philippines right now, in the hometown where I grew up, my aunts would berate me for using the wrong leaf. I used banana leaves when I should have used coconut leaves. But I don’t want to confuse you. Let’s stick to the banana leaves for now and let’s eat suman.
There are at least 15 varieties of rice in the Philippines. The sticky rice or sweet rice as described in international cookbooks is called ‘malagkit’ (sticky) by Filipinos. Sticky rice is used for ‘kakanin’ (say ‘kah-ka-nin’) another name for rice cakes made with coconut. These are eaten as snacks for ‘merienda’, the afternoon snack a few hours before dinner. Sometimes we have ‘kakanin’ as part of the Filipino breakfast. But that’s another blog post for another day.
I have mentioned before that my dad only allowed us to snack on fruits, vegetables or crops harvested from our yard or farm. So when I look longingly at suman, those days come back to me.
In the afternoons, after siesta and playing in the backyard, my sister and I would come into the house and find a heap of suman sa ibus on a bandehado (oval platter) for our snack. Next to it, would be a tall, chilled pitcher of lime juice from freshly squeezed dayap (a type of Filipino lime), which also grew on trees in our yard. The suman was either made at home or given by aunts as gifts, a bunch of six or twelve in a bundle, hanging from a string. I used to enjoy watching my mom’s hands prepare the suman snack for us, while she peeled off the light yellow coconut leaf wrapper, which coiled into a long curly strip. The shiny, white sticky log would stand out on the small saucer, its plump grains clinging to each other, rich and gooey. Mom used to sprinkle white granulated sugar over the entire sticky suman. This was my favorite part as I eagerly sliced an inch off the suman with my fork.
In the Philippine summer months of April to May, during mango season, we enjoyed suman paired with a fully ripened fresh mango. The simple flavor of the sticky rice was a superb contrast to the sweet succulence of mango chunks. If I close my eyes in reverie, I can smell the herbal fragrance of the steamed leaves that encased the sticky log and the tropical fruity scent of the golden yellow mango slice. Who knew that a mere 3 ingredients in a batch of suman could bring back a torrent of memories… the kind that stuck to your senses and your soul forever.
Suman sa Ibus- Filipino Sticky Rice Logs
- 1 cup sticky or sweet rice 'malagkit'
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk canned or fresh
- 10-12 pieces banana leaves washed and cut into 8 x 8 inch squares (frozen, from Asian markets), or use fresh
- granulated white sugar to sprinkle on cooked suman, for serving
- fresh ripe mangoes for serving
- 2 teaspoons salt to add to suman mixture
- Wash the sticky rice with water once. Drain and soak the rice in a bowl, with enough water to cover the grains. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, prepare the banana leaves by thawing them at room temperature if frozen. Wash the leaves with soap and water. Cut the large leaves into about 8 x 8 inch pieces.
- Drain the water from the soaked sticky rice. You will notice the rice grains would have plumped up a bit. Add the coconut milk and salt to the bowl of rice. Mix with a spoon.
- Lay out one piece of banana leaf on a flat, dry surface. Place 2 tablespoons of the rice mixture in the center of the leaf, arranging the rice in a long, narrow rectangle, about 4 inches long and an inch wide. You only need about 2 tablespoons per log. Once the rice is cooked, the grains double in size and stick to one another, to become a larger solid log.
- Handle the leaf lightly and gingerly, they tend to break if you get too forceful. Wrap the leaf by folding the left and right sides inwards. Then roll the wrapped suman away from you. Tie up the wrapped suman with either butcher’s string or use the discarded strips of banana leaves. Secure the string tightly so it does not come loose during cooking.
- In a large, heavy stockpot, over medium high heat, arrange the wrapped suman bundles at the bottom of the stockpot. Nestle them next to each other. If more room is needed, you can pile some of top. Pour water over the suman bundles, just enough to cover them.
- Cover and let the water boil. After water boils in about 10 minutes, lower the heat to medium. Cover and cook for 2 hours. Check the water level every now and then. If water evaporates, add some more to cover the rice logs. You will know it’s cooked because the suman logs would have gotten plumper and nearly double in size. Drain water from the suman bundles. Let the wrapped suman cool on platters. Refrigerate a few hours or overnight to firm up. When serving, sprinkle granulated white sugar on top or serve with a slice of fresh, ripe mangoes.
- Storage: These suman- sticky rice logs need to be refrigerated at all times. They last about 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator. The coconut milk in the suman will spoil if left outside in extremely warm weather.
- Cook’s comments : Suman sa Ibus are traditionally wrapped in coconut leaves in the Philippines. Coconut trees and its leaves are not available in the suburban area where I live here in the States. So I substitute with banana leaves, frozen from Asian markets.
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