I make Philippine rice cakes basically once or twice a year. They need a lot of elbow grease to prepare, and in the Philippines it is usually the man’s job to make rice cakes. So while I love eating them, the work that goes into it basically limits me from making them.
Lihiya means lye in Tagalog. Lye water is a basic ingredient in many a sticky rice cake, they should be found in any decent Asian store.
I have made these a total of three times in my life, and I multi-task when I do make them. Reserve at least half a day to make these, since it takes real committment to get them right.
You will need:
A packet of banana leaves. If you have them fresh, 2 to 3 large ones will do.
A ball of twine.
A can of coconut milk (240 ml) and a bag of panocha or four tablespoons (1/4 cup) of muscovado or dark brown sugar. Add more according to desired sweetness, if you so prefer. If you are lucky enough to live in the Philippines, this has to be kakang gata. (Sounds dirty, I know, but it just means first presssed coconut milk)
1 kg sticky rice (malagkit, or glutinous rice), 1 tablespoon lye water, 1-3 dashes of salt, and water.
Soak the rice in water for at least an hour. That means at least two inches of water over the rice level.
While soaking the rice, dump the entire can of coconut milk in a saucepan with the sugar over medium low heat. Just leave if like that and stir it from time to time. By the time this thickens, your rice cake is done.
Wipe the banana leaves with a damp cloth if you are using fresh ones. the ones in plastic bags should already be pre-cleaned (I hope). Scorch the underside of the banana leaves to make it more pliable over a hot plate. When the leaves turn darker green after a few seconds, move to a different spot, until the entire leaf is done. Cut them up to one bigger piece (about 8-10 inches long and 8 inches wide) and one smaller piece (five to six inches long as it is wide). Set aside.
By this time an hour should be up. Drain the rice and mix in the lye. It should turn yellow. Add the salt. Place the smaller-cut leaf (glossy side up) on top of the bigger-cut leaf (glossy side down) so that the corner of the smaller leaf is pointing to the top. A good demonstration of how it is done could be found here.
Place a few spoons of the rice mixture in the middle. Fold the Banana leaf lengthwise. Fold the bottom. Tap the bottom part in the table to get the rice to settle, and add a few more spoonfuls of rice if desired. Then close off by folding the top. The site I’m referencing has pictures of the procedure. It takes some practice until you get tight rice bundles, so don’t be so discouraged if it seems so uneven in your first try!
Place a pair of suman back to back, with the seams of the banana leaf folds facing each other. Secure it with a string on the top and on the bottom of the rice packet, as seen in the picture. A kilo of rice makes for four bundles, or 8 rice packs.
In the largest stock pot you have, place the rice bundles and fill it with water until all the rice bundles are covered. Bring it to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer it for an hour and a half. By this time your sauce should reach a thick, pasty consistency.
Take the bundles out of the water, let it cool, and eat with a serving of the sauce on the side. The rice would have turned into a nice, green color, and the sauce into a light cream one.
I’d also like to acknowledge English Patis who got me started on the whole suman thing. It also got me to tweak the recipe according to how I remembered suman to be like and how I like my suman.