the appetizer:

Asian Dumplings: Mastering Gyoza, Spring Rolls, Samosas, and More by Andrea Nguyen, includes recipes like Har Gow Shrimp Dumplings, Xid Jido; Sticky Rice and Spiced Chicken in Banana Leaf, Lemper Ayam; and Nepalese Vegetable and Cheese Dumplings, Tarkari Momo.

Cookbook Profile

Sticky Rice and Spiced Chicken
in Banana Leaf
Lemper Ayam

Makes 8 packets, serving 4 to 6 as a snack or side dish

Sticky Rice


Banana leaf packets of coconut sticky rice are prepared in many parts of Southeast Asia. These spectacular ones from Indonesia are filled with intensely flavored chicken. Among my favorites, they are a fine example of Indonesian cooks' ability to create foods that are lusty, earthy, and chock-full of complexity. Lemper ayam are a popular snack and can be simply steamed or grilled; during cooking the banana leaf imparts a deep tealike flavor to the rice.

For the best, most robust flavor, grind the spices from seed and use the galangal and kaffir (makrut) lime leaf; these latter ingredients are available at Southeast Asian markets and specialty-food stores, as are the candlenuts and banana leaf. Traditional Indonesian cooks use toothpicks to close up the ends of the banana leaf, whereas many modern cooks staple them shut. Serve the packets alone or as an interesting side dish.


1. Put the rice in a bowl and add water to cover by 1 inch. Let stand for at least 2 hours (or even overnight) at room temperature.

2. To make the filling, fill a small saucepan half full of water and add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a rolling boil and add the chicken. Adjust the heat to gently simmer and cook the chicken for 15 to 20 minutes, until you can stick a chopstick into the thickest part and there is very little resistance. Transfer the chicken to a bowl and set aside to cool. Discard or save the broth for another use.

When cool enough to handle, hand-shred the chicken, aiming for thick matchsticks. As you work, discard unsightly blood vessels and sinew, but keep some fat for richness.

3. Make a flavoring paste for the filling by grinding the coriander and cumin seeds to a powder. (If you are using ground spices, just put them right into the mini-chopper.) Transfer to an electric mini-chopper and add the shallot, garlic, candlenuts, chile, galangal, and water. Process to a soft texture resembling that of oatmeal, pausing as needed to scrape down the sides. If needed, add extra water by the teaspoon to move things along. (When using a mortar and pestle, pound the spices, then work in the other paste ingredients, adding the water gradually.)

4. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over mediumlow heat. The oil is ready when a bit of flavoring paste sizzles gently on contact. Add the paste and fry, stirring frequently, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture no longer smells raw but is wonderfully fragrant. Add the lime leaves and cook for 1 minute, or until you can smell their heady scent. Add the coconut milk, stir to combine, and add the chicken and a generous 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 8 minutes, or until the liquid has evaporated and the mixture is relatively dry. The chicken shreds should be clearly visible, with a few of them standing out from the mixture. Transfer to a plate and discard the kaffir leaves. Taste and add salt, if necessary. (The filling can be prepared up to 2 days in advance, covered, and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before using.) There should be about 1 cup.

5. Drain the rice in a mesh strainer and rinse. Let it sit for 1 to 2 minutes, then give it a good shake to expel water. Put the rice in a highsided round cake pan or metal bowl that fits into your steamer tray. Toss with the salt, then add the 1/2 cup coconut milk and 1/4 cup water. Put into the steamer tray and steam over boiling water (see page 17 of the book for guidance) for 25 minutes. After about 8 minutes, stir the rice with a spatula to ensure even cooking. The rice is done when it is translucent and soft. Turn the heat off, give the rice a stir, and let it sit, covered, for 10 minutes to finish cooking. If the rice seems dry, sprinkle 1 or 2 tablespoons of water onto the hot rice, cover, and rest for a few minutes to soften more.

Detach the steamer tray and set it aside to cool the rice for about 15 minutes. If you are not using it right away, keep the rice in the steamer; make sure it is cool enough to handle before using. Use a spatula or knife to divide the rice into 8 portions.

6. Use one piece of banana leaf for each packet. (If the banana leaves feel stiff, soften them by passing each over the flame of a gas stove or a hot electric burner.) Put a leaf on your work surface, smoother side up and one of the longer sides closest to you. Wet your fingertips, take about two-thirds of one portion of rice, put it on the center of the leaf, and press it into a 3 by 5-inch rectangle. Center about 2 tablespoons of filling atop the rice, spreading and pressing it into a log shape. Take the remaining one-third portion of rice and press it into a 1/4-inch-thick layer, big enough to drape over the filling. Place on top of the filling.

Bring the lower flap of banana leaf over the rice and tuck it underneath to create a tubular shape. Then roll it closed. If you like, fold the open ends together so that they form a boat shape. Otherwise, keep the ends open. Secure each end closed with a round wooden toothpick or staple. Repeat to make the remaining 7 packets.

If you are not cooking them right away, slide the packets into an airtight plastic container or zip-top plastic bag and refrigerate for up to 3 days. If the rice hardens and you plan to grill them, steam the packets into softness for 4 to 6 minutes first.

7. To cook the packets, you can steam them over boiling water for 4 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and wait for the steam to subside before lifting the lid, and then carefully lift it away from you to avoid condensation dripping onto the dumplings. The packets should be soft and heated through. Steaming preserves the flavors of the delicate coconut rice and robust filling well.

Or, add a little edge by grilling each packet over a medium-hot fire, seam side down, for 4 to 7 minutes, until the leaf has browned or is somewhat charred on the ends; a longer grilling allows the banana leaf to impart a stronger tea-leaf aroma and flavor to the rice, but the delicateness of the rice and filling diminish. Flip the packet over and grill for 2 to 4 minutes more, until the leaf is browned or lightly charred. (Alternatively, roast the packets on a baking sheet in the upper third of the oven at 500 degrees F for 4 to 6 minutes on each side, until the packets gently hiss and the leaf is tinged brown and crispy.)

Regardless of cooking method, serve the packets warm or at room temperature. Remove the toothpicks or staples, unwrap, and enjoy with a fork. Remember that the leaf is inedible.


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This page created May 2010