Steamed glutinous rice with pork ribs in lotus leavesWrapping glutinous rice in aromatic leaves is a sure way to create irresistible parcels, which is why almost every Asian cuisine has their versions of sticky wonders.

In Indonesia, for example, you can find Lemper Ayam, a beloved local snack made with glutinous rice wrapped and steamed in banana leaves, filled with chicken or fish.

Pulut Panggang, a fantastic dish from Malaysia,  uses glutinous rice first steamed with coconut milk, then wrapped in banana leaves and grilled over fire, to imbue the rice not only with the aroma of the leaves but also a wonderful smokiness.

Perhaps the most famous example is Chinese Zongzi (粽子), glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves and cooked through steaming or boiling.  Zongzi comes in various sizes and shapes depending on which part of China it is from, and the fillings could be either savory or sweet, and typically include any of the following goodies:  pork, chicken, dried scallops, salted duck egg yolks, peanuts, chestnuts, red beans, mung beans, and Chinese dates,

Shaping Zongzi correctly requires some hands-on practice, and is not something one can learn easily just by reading a recipe or watching a video.  That’s why I’m introducing an easier version here.  Call it free-form Zongzi if you will, this dish does not need advanced wrapping skills to make.

It does, however, require you to take a slower approach to food.  You see, to fully flavor the pork ribs, you need to marinate them for at least 12 hours.  To turn the rice into something utterly soft, sticky, and unctuous, you need to soak them for hours followed by extended steaming.

But as you will find out, there is much to be gained when you invest time in preparing this dish, or any food you eat in general: you eat better!

 

Steamed glutinous rice and pork ribs in lotus leaves

Makes 2 servings

Ingredients

1 cup glutinous rice
1 lb (450 g) pork ribs.  Ask your butcher to cut the ribs through the bones into 1-inch (2.5 cm) strips.
2 dried lotus leaves.  Banana leaves work equally well.
1 scallion, thinly sliced

For the marinade:
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine

Procedure

  1. Cut the pork ribs between the bones into small pieces.  Mix them with the ingredients for the marinade and marinate in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours.
  2. Soak the glutinous rice in cold water for 8 hours, and drain well.
  3. Soak the lotus leaves for 2 hours, or until they are soft and pliable.
  4. Combine the rice with the pork ribs and the marinade, and mix well.  Lay the lotus leaves on top of each other, making sure you cover up any holes or cracks.  Place the mixture in the center of the leaves, and fold in the sides of the leaves to make a parcel in the shape of a cheese wheel.  Secure with kitchen twine.
  5. Place the parcel in a steamer and steam over medium-low heat for 90 minutes, or until the rice is soft and sticky and the ribs are tender.  Check from time to time to make sure there is sufficient water in the pot to generate steam; add water as needed.
  6. Unwrap the parcel.  Garnish with the scallion and serve immediately.
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