Grilled Banana Wrapped in Sticky Rice
In my last post, I reminisced on how my past picky eating habits led me to a love of Vietnamese barbecue beef—it was the only thing that sounded non-frightening to me at my first Vietnamese dining experience. I also found humor in that my old self wouldn't venture past that singular item once I deemed it an appropriate fit for my palette. In contrast, this week I'm finding another Vietnamese item as example of the distance I still have yet to go to become the ideal eater I wish I was, because while I cooked up these grilled bananas wrapped in sticky rice, they represented food aversions I'm still not able to shake.
Lingering food aversions are a point of embarrassment for me, and I don't quite get why my brain has these issues. In theory, there is nothing that I don't like in this dish, and usually when I make something myself I'm more apt to eat it, knowing exactly what is in it.
This dish started with sticky rice, something I look forward to getting whenever I'm in a Thai restaurant. Usually though, the sticky rice I enjoy is steamed, while for this dessert, I was after a sweeter, more glutinous rice. I accomplished this by cooking the rice in coconut milk and water with a tablespoon of palm sugar thrown in.
I kept a close eye on the rice as it slowly simmered, stopping the cooking when the rice was completely cooked through, but not so overdone that it became a mushy mess. Once done and tasted, there was nothing about this rice I found offensive, and even snuck a few spoonfuls to keep me sustained while I continued cooking.
Banana used to be on my strong dislike list, but I've since broken that aversion. I still don't reach for a banana as a snack or purposefully order a smoothie with a banana base, but I wont discount or push away something just because it has banana in it.
For this particular dish, I needed to be able to wrap a banana in sticky rice, so picked up a bunch of mini-bananas since they seemed to be the perfect size for the task on hand.
Admittedly, the aroma of banana leaves is not appetizing to me, but I've cooked with them in the past and their aroma hasn't proven to be a major mental road block. Still, once I began to assemble the rolls by spreading a layer of the sticky rice out on a banana leaf, I started to become a bit turned off from what I was making.
That didn't stop me though, and I ventured forth by placing half of a banana slice in the middle of the rice.
Then I folded the banana leaf over to encase the banana completely in the rice.
And finally, I rolled the banana leaf closed, folded over the sides, then secured them closed by tying a strip of banana leaf around each end of the packet.
After I finished stuffing and rolling each banana leaf, I quickly whipped up a batch of tapioca pearls to serve along with the finished dessert. I did this by first soaking the tapioca pearls in water for 15 minutes, then drained and rinsed them. Then I added them coconut milk and palm sugar which I had brought to boil, and cooked them until translucent and tender—just a couple of minutes.
Next, the stuffed banana leaves went on the grill over direct heat. The idea was to cook these until the rice developed some nice browning and crisping, but I made them toward the end of the day when the grill wasn't that hot, so while they managed to cook completely in 20 minutes, they lacked the deep browning I was after and a hotter fire would have produced.
Still, that shouldn't have put me off from eating them, but for some reason, after I had stuffed myself silly with pork skewers, chicken, and steak, this was far from the type of dessert my stomach would have made accommodations for. Glutinous and gelatinous desserts are still not my thing, and combine that with only tepid relationships with bananas and their leaves, I ended up abstaining from a dessert that I put quite a bit of effort into creating. My other guests didn't have these hang ups though, and they thought this was quite tasty and I had done a good job on execution. So it's with some embarrassment and reservation that I share this post since I did not taste the final result myself, but at the same time, it helps serve as a personal reminder that I need to let go of these lingering aversions to be able to share everything I cook with totally full confidence.
Grilled Banana Wrapped in Sticky Rice
- Yield 8-10 servings
- Prep 45 Minutes
- Inactive 2 Hours 15 Minutes
- Cook 20 Minutes
- Total 3 Hours 20 Minutes
- For the Sticky Rice
- 2 cups sticky rice
- 1 cup coconut milk
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- For the Tapioca
- 1/4 cup small dried tapioca pearls
- 1/2 cup water
- 3/4 cup coconut milk
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar, plus more to taste
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 2-3 banana leaves
- 5 mini bananas, peeled and halved lengthwise
- To make the sticky rice: Place rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse under running water for 1 minute. Transfer rice to a large bowl, cover completely with cold water, and let soak for 2 hours to overnight. Drain rice into a fine mesh strainer.
- Place coconut milk, 1 cup water, palm sugar, and salt in a large pot or dutch oven and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add in strained rice and stir. Cover pot, reduce heat to low, and cook until rice is tender throughout. Remove from heat.
- To make the tapioca pearls: Place tapioca pearls in a small bowl with 1/2 cup water and let sit for 15 minutes. Drain tapioca into a fine mesh strainer and rinse until cold water.
- Place coconut milk, water, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, add in strained tapioca pearls, and cook until transparent and tender, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add additional sugar and salt to taste. Set aside.
- Cut off a piece of banana leaf approximately 12-inches square. Using a rubber spatula, spread about 1/3 cup of the sticky rice out in an even layer on the banana leaf. Place banana half in center of sticky rice. Fold banana leaf over to encase banana completely in rice. Roll banana leaf closed, fold ends over, and tie each end closed with a thin strip of banana leaf. Repeat with remaining rice, bananas, and banana leaves.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place banana leaf wraps on grill and cook until banana leaves have browned and charred, 7-10 minutes per side. Remove from grill and let cool for a couple minutes. Open banana leaf, spoon on tapioca pearls, and serve immediately.