Monday, February 27, 2012

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AMK's first cooking class at Skillshare & a recipe for Lepat Pisang

lepat pisang, steamed banana parcels, Malaysian dessert
I'm so excited - I taught my first cooking class at Skillshare HQ in Soho yesterday.  It was actually my second class with the Skillshare team,  but my first at their gorgeous, spacious headquarters on Broome Street in Soho.
I arrived there at 1pm yesterday and met my lovely and talented assistant Angie as I stepped out of the elevator and she came bounding up the stairs.  No wonder she's so fit - you know when you read those articles about how to squeeze exercise into your daily routine and one of the tips is to take the stairs instead of using the elevator?  Seriously now - how many of us have actually done that?  Not me.  Ever.  And it shows.  But there was Angie,  Ms High Energy herself singing "hi!" as she literally came running up the stairs to the 5th floor!  Maybe I'll do that someday.  Maybe.  Okay - probably never. 
We set up all the ingredients I had brought and moved things around in Skillshare's kitchen to suit our needs.  At minutes to two,  two lovely ladies showed up - our first students.  Pretty soon,  every one else had arrived and we began.
We started out making the mixture for the Lepat Pisang.  What is lepat pisang?  It's the gorgeously silky,  indescribably delicious Malaysian lovechild of banana bread and pudding, as described by Joshua M. Bernstein in his blog post about my cooking.  Wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for 30 minutes, the result is what you see in the picture above.  The Malay words "lepat pisang" translate to "wrapped bananas" - perfectly simple and so on point. We mixed up a batch (which took all of ten minutes),  covered the bowl and popped it in the refrigerator to let the flavors mingle and get to know each other.
Then we moved on to my mum's famous spiced ghee rice.  The smell of the the spices and ghee sautéeing in the pan had everyone ooh-ing and aah-ing.  Everyone took turns at the stove - stirring the ingredients in the pan.  Someone volunteered to wash the rice.  He did an amazing job!  We put everything in Skillshare's rice cooker and turned our attention to the centerpiece of our class - a Singhalese-style chicken curry.  I know,  I know - I need to post that recipe ASAP.  It goes so well with the roti jala recipe here.
Next,  I shared a super easy recipe for greens - we used mini (not baby!  there is a difference) bok choy.  The greens are blanched,  then a simple sauce of oil, garlic and Vietnamese seasoning sauce is poured over them.  So easy,  so tasty and so versatile - you can substitute any tender greens with this method.
The most fun part of the class was wrapping the lepat pisang mixture in the banana leaves.  I showed them how to prepare the banana leaves - then each person was set up with a banana leaf,  a piece of pandan leaf and a heaping tablespoonful of the mixture.  I did one quick demonstration of the folding technique and they each wrapped the most perfect little parcels ever.  Such a bunch of pros!  Everyone got one more turn at wrapping a parcel and the pretty little envelopes were placed in the steamer.
skillshare cooking class in progressWhile waiting for the lepat pisang to cook,  we sat down to a delicious lunch.  I was so happy with this class - a great bunch of adventurous souls,  eager to experience something new and such a lovely, diverse group of people.  I enjoyed getting to know a little bit about each one of them - their backgrounds,  how they learned to cook and what brought them to NYC.  Now I'm seriously looking forward to teaching my next class - would anyone like to suggest a menu?
Here's my recipe for lepat pisang.  You can Google it and find lots of different recipes for it. Some recipes call for cornstarch.  Others only use all-purpose flour.  Some omit the shredded coconut and substitute water for the coconut milk.  This is my recipe for lepat pisang - the result of various trials with some of the substitutions mentioned above.  I find this to be the absolute best combination of ingredients for a silky smooth,  melt-in-your-mouth,  bursting-with-flavor lepat pisang.

Lepat Pisang (serves 6 - 8)
3 cups mashed overripe bananas *
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup rice flour
4 tablespoons palm sugar (jaggery)
1/2 cup coconut milk
3 tablespoons shredded coconut
A pinch of salt
18 pieces of banana leaves,  about 8" x 8" (run each piece under a hot tap,  to soften) **
2 pandan leaves,  cut into 1" pieces **

Combine the mashed bananas,  flours and sugar.  Add the coconut milk bit by bit,  to moisten the mixture enough to achieve the consistency of runny oatmeal.  Add the shredded coconut and salt,  and mix well to combine.   Don't worry if the mixture seems lumpy - this adds wonderful texture to the finished product.
Bring a large pot of water to boil for steaming.
 Lay a piece of banana leaf down on your counter and put a piece of pandan leaf in the middle.  Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the mixture right on top of the pandan leaf.  Fold the top and bottom closed,  being careful to keep the mixture in the middle of the leaf - then fold the left and right sides down to create a little envelope of the mixture.  Repeat with the rest of the mixture.  You should end up with about 14 - 18 packets,  depending on how generous you were with the mixture in each leaf. 
skillshare studentsArrange the envelopes in a steamer,  making sure not to crowd them.  It's ok to have them on top of each other,  just remember to leave space in between them so the steam has room to move.
Steam for 30 minutes.  Serve warm.

* I like to use the mini bananas (aka finger bananas or bananitos is Hispanic markets),  which can be found at most Asian produce markets.  In some Caribbean neighborhoods,  you can find these at bodegas as well.  Remember to buy them ahead of time and use them when very, very, very ripe.  Yes,  that's three "verys"! If you use regular bananas,  again, just make sure they are overripe. 

** Here in NY,  frozen banana leaves and pandan leaves can be bought at Bangkok Center Grocery,  104 Mosco Street in Chinatown or online here.  To prepare the banana leaves for wrapping,  first cut the hard middle spine of the leaf off.  Cut into the appropriate size.  Then wash each piece really well under hot running water - the hot water softens the leaf so it is easy to fold.  If you omit this step,  you'll find the leaves crack as you try to fold them up.

lepat pisang, Malaysian dessert, steamed banana parcels
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