Meet Ava Oreta, 10-year-old daughter of Quinto and Maiki Oreta. She loves to cook and wants to become a chef.
Her family is spending quarantine in Lipa City, Batangas, where they’ve been planting and raising vegetables. On the side, Ava and her siblings Mariella and Mario have been making toys out of leaves. They’ve voted “toy of choice” the ball woven from coconut leaves.
But Ava spends most of her time making suman. Her suman is delicious, soft, milky and creamy. The rice cakes are evenly wrapped, and are all of same size and shape.
She said she enjoyed baking native rice cakes because of the tedious steps, such as measuring and grating the coconuts (kadkad) and rolling and wrapping the rice. She enjoys doing the whole thing with her family.
Suman-making for the Oretas is a family activity.
“We do everything from scratch,” said Ava. “We cook it as a family, having so much fun while we’re at it. We get coconuts from coconut trees, banana leaves from banana tree. Searching for what we need is so much fun. We get most of our ingredients from around the house.”
The best part is savoring the dish together.
“Tasting what we made is what I love best,” said Ava.
Ava is experimenting with chocolate suman and trying to make her version of buko pie. Asked if she’d like to sell her suman, Ava said no, but gave me her recipe, written and edited by her mom.
Ava Oreta’s Classic Suman
2 kg sticky rice
1 kg brown sugar
1½ Tbsp salt
8 freshly shredded coconuts
Banana leaves (young) cut into 8” x 8” squares
Cook the malagkit in a rice cooker, but not completely; use just equal amounts water and rice. The grains must still be hard at the core, al dente.Make the fresh coconut milk. Coconut meat should be shredded to bits. Place shredded coconut meat in a large bowl. Pour boiling hot water over it, just enough to soak the meat. Mix for 10-15 minutes, letting the coconut soak up all or most of the hot water.
Extract the milk from the soaked coconut shreds. Use your hands to thoroughly squeeze the liquid out bit by bit. After straining, discard the shreds.
Put the coconut milk in a large wok or something similar. Let boil for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
Pour in the brown sugar. Mix until the liquid thickens slightly, then add the salt. Mix for another five minutes.
Pour the al dente rice from the rice cooker into the wok. Mix constantly so nothing sticks to the bottom. Keep on mixing until the grains of rice absorb all the coconut milk.
Reduce the heat to low. Cover for 10 minutes and let cook. No stirring. Set aside and let cool for about 30 minutes.
Place a large spoonful of the rice onto a banana leaf. Shape, mold, roll and then wrap tightly. Steam for 45 minutes or until you can smell the freshly cooked coconut.
Roll the suman very tightly, so it doesn’t break when you steam it.
Squeeze as much from the coconuts to get a real nice coconut flavor
Some cooks mix regular rice grains with sticky rice grains. Stick to 100-percent sticky rice grains.
Use only freshly squeezed coconut milk.
Use only freshly cut, young, bright light green banana leaves.
Eat the suman warm, with hot chocolate.
Email the author at @iamreggieaspiras; visit www.reggieaspiras.com