Monday, September 15, 2008

Nagasari

Banana is a fruit that I don't really give much thought about. It is the most available fruit all year round, even in my cold New England part! I can't say I don't like it nor can I say I love it. It is just a fruit of necessity that I automatically get a bunch at the groceries every week and to fill my countertop basket, normally eaten when I need something sweet to perk up my mundane day and a snack for the kids and also acts as Curry's occasional lunch pack filler.

Back in Malaysia, we get all sorts of bananas, small, medium, plantains, red, green and milky. The much loved Banana Cake needs no introduction over there, which is quite akin to the Banana bread here. If made correctly, the soft texture of the buttery cake infused with Banana flesh is very addictive and after a few slices, the richness sets in and I would choose coffee as the accompanying beverage to wash down the sweetness that the cake yields.

I have always wanted to make this dessert but never bothered to look for the Banana Leaves and I thought they don't exist in my neck of the woods. When my mum visited me and commented that the Asian stores here have complete stocks of everything and even better than those back in Malaysia, I didn't believe her then. But after finding the Banana leaves, I surely agree with that statement. If I was in Malaysia, I would just go to my grandma's place and cut down the leaves from her Banana trees and probably get lucky too with a bunch of ripen bananas, pluck fresh from the tree itself.

Nagasari is an Indonesian dessert of cooked rice flour with added cornstartch or tapioca flour, wrapped inside a piece of banana leaf with slices of banana inserted into the rice flour paste and all steamed to firm consistency. My mum used to make these banana packages but somehow her version was different with added palm sugar, hence a brownish color of the rice paste and not white like mine. And she used a special flour called "Hon Kwoe flour" from Indonesia, which is made of mung bean which gives a better and firmer texture than the rice flour recommended by my recipe book.

The cooking of the rice paste was not difficult, just mixing the rice flour and tapioca starch which acts as a thickening agent together with lots of coconut milk and sugar. All cooked to thick and paste consistency and spooned into cleaned and cut ready banana leaves. Overall, the banana slices are there to give color and accentuate the taste of the dessert rather than being the overpowering ingredient. The coconut milk gives richness to the rice paste while the banana leaf infused it with subtle fragrant, similar to but not as powerful as the Pandan leaves.

The steaming firms up the paste and shaped each package into a square shape. The Nagasari must be left cooled to room temperature before serving and I prefer to refrigerate mine and eat like a snack.... just like peeling the Banana but I am peeling Banana leaves instead and getting something white and square rather than long and yellowish. And it is a good dessert if you like the flavors of coconut milk with banana together.



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