Rice or glutinous rice wrapped and cooked in leaves is a theme shared by many Asian cuisine. A few that come to mind are bak chang, Chinese glutinous rice dumplings that are wrapped in bamboo leaves, the Nonya version using pandan (screw pine) leaves. Then there is lotus leaf rice, a must have for dim sum sessions. The Malays have pulut panggang which is glutinous rice filled with savory fillings like shrimp or chicken wrapped with banana leaves.
When Yulia told us she needed to buy coconut leaves, I thought she was going to make ketupat which is essential for Aidilfitri celebrations in most Malay homes where the rice cakes in weaved coconut leaf casings are eaten with curries and rendangs.
Yulia did not make ketupat. She made a Indonesian dessert called Lepet which is basically glutinous rice and coconut wrapped in coconut leaves. Mom and I were ohing and ahhing at how pretty the coconut leaf pocket looked. This was the first time I have seen rice cakes wrapped this way. I have to admit while I really liked the little Lepet coconut leaf pocket, I was not expecting a surprise when it came to the taste. After all, glutinous rice and grated coconut is a very common combination for Malay and Indonesian desserts.
Well, the real surprise on the day Yulia made Lepet was how delicious and addictive glutinous rice and grated coconut infused with the fragrance of coconut leaves can be. My family and I were absolutely blown away by the flavour and we were not even fond of coconut. We ate 2 or 3 each and this was after having big bowls of Cantonese rice porridge for lunch. Talk about a carbohydrates overload.
Without further ado, here's how to make Lepet. Making the coconut leaf pocket takes a little practise. The ones I made were too ugly to show the world, so the Lepet in the photographs were made by Yulia.
1kg glutinous rice, pick and sieve out all impurities, washed
200g freshly grated coconut
1 tsp salt
Mix above ingredients together
Coconut leaf pocket:
Coconut leaves, remove spine with a knife, each leaf will split into two ribbons.
Raffia string for tying
Take a coconut leaf ribbon, fold in about 5cm of the leaf like so in the photograph over lapping about half the width of the leaf. Make sure there is no gap in the fold. For a bigger or smaller rice cake, adjust the length of the leaf folded in accordingly.
Fold the long end of the leaf around the short end creating a shallow bowl. This is the bottom of the coconut leave packet so make sure that both ends are tight and there are no gaps.
Continue folding the long end of the leaf around the bottom creating a little squarish pocket. Each fold overlaps about half the width of the leaf.
The final result should be a squarish pocket 5cm by 5cm with about 30cm of the leaf remaining. Hold the pocket firmly to prevent it from loosening or worse, unfurling.
Fill the pocket with the glutinous rice and coconut mixture to about 3 quarters full.
Fold in one side of the pocket as tightly as possible using the thumb to compress the rice.
Using a strand of raffia string, with the thumb still exerting pressure, tie up the side of the coconut leaf pocket. Now fold in the other side of the pocket and tie it up too.
This is how the final product looks like. A compact and squarish pocket filled with the glutinous rice and coconut mixture and a coconut leaf tail. The 5cm x 5cm pocket weighs about 40g. A pocket this size will yield about 25 rice cakes from 1 kg of glutinous rice.
Hold the pockets by the coconut leaf tail and tie them together, 5 pockets in a bundle. Boil the rice cakes in a big pot of water for 5 hours.
You can eat Lepet as it is or fry the rice dumpling with a little oil. It can also be served with Mangoes or just simply with red or brown sugar. It can be kept in the freezer for 4- 5 days and reheat by microwaving or steaming.