Pulut Lepa aka Pulut Panggang versi Terengganu
Pulut Lepa aka Pulut Panggang versi Terengganu is a delicious savory snack made from glutinous rice steamed with coconut milk and an “inti serunding ikan kembong“, i.e. spiced mackerel fish floss filling, wrapped with banana leaves and finally grilled for the extra oomph of wonderful smoky flavours. This is a simple “kuih” enjoyed freshly “panggang” i.e. grilled over a charcoal flame for breakfast or tea. Being very affordable, it is a common “walk and eat along” treat for many Terengganuans, especially amongst folks on their way to work and children to school, grabbing one or two as they pass by their favorite stall in the pasar pagi, i.e. morning bazaar.
Prima facie, Pulut Lepa reminded me much of another dish close to my heart, Rempah Udang from Melakan Peranakan cuisine, as both are essentially variations of the same “pulut panggang” theme where grilled glutinous rice wrapped within banana leaves is used as a vector for the delicious filling within. Unlike the more “boisterous” looking Pulut Lepa, Rempah Udang are usually made more petite, much like many nyonya kuih muih. The former, intended to fill the stomach more than anything else, is naturally made bigger and more “wholesome”!
I’d never seen a Pulut Lepa before, let alone taste or make one. But there are several working recipes by Terengganuans online, including one on wikipedia! So here is what I’d managed to conjure based using these recipes as a backbone as well the experience in making and wrapping Rempah Udang many moons back.
Presoaked glutinous rice steamed with coconut milk
The process begins with leaving glutinous rice to soak for the day. It is important that the rice be washed until the water runs clear before leaving to soak. This prevents fermentation from kickstarting in the cloudy starch-laden broth. The soaked rice is first steamed for 10 min before coconut milk is stirred in. I do this over two sucessions, much like how Seri Muka and Pulut Inti are made, to ensure that the rice grains are uniformly coated with coconut milk. If all the coconut milk is added all at once, rice grains near the bottom of the cooking vessel would be drenched and soaked on coconut milk causing them to be softer and more mushy than the top portion. Also, the top grains would not be evenly coated with coconut milk and thus less flavourful. Salt should be added into the milk and not directly onto the rice for obvious reasons.
Extracted fish meat from ikan kembong ready to be” serundingised”!
After “spinning the fork” for a few rounds, this is what it looks like…
A few more turns and the texture is almost there. Do not flake the fish meat too finely as the cooking process woulkd disintegrate it further.
For the inti, an serunding ikan filling is included and I’d used ikan kembong but bascially sardines, selar or other varieties within the small-sized mackerel family can be used. The fish is first poached with just salt and asam gelugur, just like how Laksam was made. I’m glad to have learnt this way of cooking ikan kembong as this simple method using just salt and asam gelugur really accentuates the sweetness of fresh fish.
Using fenugreek seeds, one of life’s many first!
The inti also used very minimal spices and condiments to support the fish floss, primarily just shallots, ginger and fenugreek. It’s my first time using fenugreek aka halba in cooking where I learnt that its these little seeds that impart much of that aroma and flavour characteristic of indian cooking! Once again, this basic concoction serves only to provide adequate support for the flavours of the fish to be brought out and not to overpower it. The poaching liquids were retained to flavour the serunding, alternated with coconut milk and cooked in a risotto-like manner to ensure full absorption of every last bit of goodness from the fish is encapsulated within the serunding! This requires a bit of patience but trust me, its well worth the effort! In summary, the flavours of the filling are kept very simple and rustic. No complex rempah-making! Definitely my kinda dish!
Grated coconut for cooking the inti. I’d steamed the grated coconut first thing I’d reached home from the pasar. This helps to prevent the grated coconut from going rancid too fast.
The banana leaves are first wilted over the stove flame for a few seconds on each side to soften the leaves sufficient while not causing them to brown. I basically adopted the rolling technique which I’d used to make Rempah Udang, which I believe shouldn’t defer too much from how Pulut Lepa are traditionally wrapped. It’s basically very very similar to making nori maki sushi rolls. In place of a bamboo sushi mat, banana leaves are used and thus one needs to exercise extra care to ensure that no rips or tears surface on pieces of softened banana leaves. After the rice rolls are tightly bound into cylinders, the ends are folded and fastened with bamboo toothpicks. Old habits die hard and I went out to make my first Pulut Lepa with the ends folded like how Rempah Udang is done. Thankfully, I’d noticed something amiss and quickly went to recap how Pulut Lepa looks like online! The others turned out more “Pulut Lepa“-like and hopefully would taste like the real deal too!
Cooking the inti, when the ingredients are mixed with the first pour of coconut milk and developed an oatmeal like texture.
For the “pulut”
500g of glutinous rice, rinsed and soaked overnight
1/2 tsp of salt
3 cups of coconut milk (from 1 coconut and 2 cups of water)
In a shallow dish, spread out soaked glutinous rice evenly.
Steam under high heat for 10 min.
Meanwhile, dissolve salt in coconut milk.
Using a fork, distribute half the volume of coconut milk and mixing it well with the rice grains.DO NOT USE A SPOON as it would flatten the rice grains invariably causing them to become mushy.
Steam for another 10 mins
Repeat with the remaining 1/2 portion of coconut milk
Steam for another 10-15 min until the rice is JUST cooked.
Set aside to cool
The final look of the inti, crumbly but still considerably moist.
For the “inti”
500g ikan kembong or other similar fish varieties
3 slices of asam gelugur
1 tbsp fenugreek
6-8 shallots, peeled
1″ knob of ginger, peeled
1/2 a freshly grated coconut (without extracting the milk)
300g thick coconut milk
salt and sugar to taste
dash of black pepper
1 tbsp toasted ikan bilis powder (optional)
1 tbsp thick black soya sauce for colour (optional)
Poach ikan kembong with a pinch of salt and slices of asam gelugur until fish are JUST cooked, i.e. eyes turned completely cloudy but not yet pop out of the sockets (appro. 5-7 min depending on size of fish). When the fish are cooked, set aside and leave to cool. Discard asam gelugur but retain poaching liquids for later use.
Meanwhile, prepare condiments but slicing and juilenne shallots and ginger finely.
In a wok, add about 1/2 cup of water and fenugreek seeds. Bring to a boil and lower flame with lid on and allow to simmer for 5 min. The water should develop a lovely tuscany yellow/ochre coloration. Set aside to cool.
Pour fenugreek seeds with steeping liquids and sliced shallots and ginger into a food processor. Blitz until a smmoth paste is obtained. Set aside.
Extract fish meat from poached ikan kembong. With a fork and deep bowl, flake the cooked fish bits into a coarse floss like texture by rotating the fork continuously. Adjust the texture of the fish meat to one’s liking. I like mine with a bit more bite and fibre.
Add pulverise fish meat, blended mixture of shallots and ginger into a wok. Add half the portion of fish poaching liquids. Gently stir until well incorporated and liquids begin to evaporate (Risotto-cooking method) and the texture begins to dry out slightly.
Add half portion of coconut milk and stir gently until well-incorporated and dried out slightly, also in a risotto like fashion.
Repeat with remaining fish poaching liquids. This time, add salt, pepper, sugar and toasted ikan bilis powder (optional) and adjust to taste.
Repeat with final portion of coconut milk and stir gently until very little moisture remains. The serunding ikan should be bursting with flavour now.
Set aside to cool down completely.
10-15 pieces of banana leaves appro 20 x 20 cm, washed and wiped dry with kitchen napkin
toothpicks or bambbo skewers
Wilt banana leaves over a gentle stove flame. The leaves will shrink slightly.
Lay a piece of banana leaf on the work surface and place a portion of glutinous in the centre and proceed to flatten into an obongish shape.
Add a portion of filling at the centre and press down slightly to compact it.
Gently bring over the horizontal side of the banana leaf nearer to you over the rice and filling.
Press down gently and at the same time, tuck back slightly, allowing the rice to form a cylinder over the filling. Tighten by tucking in further. This is basically the same method which maki sushi is made.
Unwrap slightly to check that the rice has formed a tight cylinder over the filling.
Roll the banana leaves over the rice cylinder, exerting a slight pressure at all times to ensure that the rice is compact without allowing any gaps to form.
Lift up the cylinder and place it horizontally. Using the index finger and thumb of your working hand, press the rice near one of the openings of the cylinder inwards to compact further. The other hand should be gently clasping the middle of the cylinder.
Rotate and repeat for the other opening of the cylinder.
Fold the excess banana leaves at the side and secure with toothpick or bamboo skewer.
Place a wire rack over the stove and turn down to the lowest possible flame.
Place the rice rolls over the rack and grill until the leaves begin to char slightly and a smoking aroma develops. Periocally rotate the rolls with tongs.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TURN UP THE FLAME TO HASTEN THE “PANGGANG” PROCESS. The purpose of grilling is not just to char the leaves but to also heat up the rice and filling. The oils from the coconut milk used will begin to work through the banana leaves causing them to look “shiny”. This is a telltale sign that the panggang is almost done.
Otherwise, set the oven to 200C and place the rice rolls over a rack as well to ensure good air circulation. Grill until the banana leaves begin to crisp and look slightly charred. Once again, the smoky aroma of slightly burnt banana leaves is quite unmistakable.
The first Pulut Lepa with the ends finished off like Rempah Udang! I’m a creature of habit!
Thankfully the hiccup was quickly noticed and rectified. The rest of the batch looked more Pulut Lepa like I hope!
Pangganging the rolls over the stove instead of an oven. Watch the flame and it would work very very well!
Can’t wait to dive into my first Pulut Lepa!
And this is what it looks like inside!
By the way, HAPPY BIRTHDAY LENA!!!