Vietnamese Lunar New Year wouldn’t be complete without these savory cakes made of a mung bean and pork filling encased in sticky rice. Often wrapped in banana leaves and artfully tied with colorful string, these hearty cakes have a distinct square shape and festive appeal. The banana leaves impart a wonderful aroma and lovely color to the rice making this cake pleasing to all the senses. The making of these cakes is a labor of love. Yes, they are time-consuming to make and there aren’t many shortcuts but, the effort is all worth it. You’ll love the artistry involved and your family and friends will surely appreciate your efforts. Give it a try friends. Happy Lunar New Year!
Notes on the Recipe, Tips and Tricks
For the card stock, I used a manila folder.
You can make the 4″ square form using cardboard or purchase a 4-inch square box from your office supply store and then cut to size.
The food mold/cutter used to make the filling should be between 3 1/2 – 3 3/4-inches. You can make one of these using cardboard or use anything close in size, like food storage containers.
When selecting banana leaves, choose sections with the spine. This will give the leaf more support and structure. When cutting the leaves with the 8-inch by 9-inch template, include the spine in the 8″ length.
When folding the banana leaves, keep the following rule in mind: For the first 2 leaves, put the shiny, darker green side facing out. This will make the cakes look prettier. For the remaining 2 leaves, have the shiny, darker green sides facing in so the lovely essence is imparted into the rice.
When making the filling squares, if the mashed mung bean is too crumbly, pop in the microwave for 30 seconds and it will be more spreadable.
Keep the filling in the freezer until you’re ready to use. When wrapping the cakes, I take out one filling piece at a time. They’re easier to work with when they are frozen.
I recommend using a fattier cut of pork in this recipe. The fat melts off during cooking and seeps into the rice making it really tasty.
Use a small spatula or butter knife to push the rice evenly to the corners. This will help to make the cake look square.
Avoid tying the string to tightly–just enough to hold everything together. Leave room for the glutinous rice to expand.
Don’t use too much weight when pressing the cakes. This will cause the sides of the cake to balloon and the cake won’t be square.
If banana leaves are difficult to find, substitute with bamboo leaves or corn husks. Optionally, you can wrap with parchment paper or foil. If you can find small amounts of banana leaves, line the parchment paper with a few pieces and this will impart the lovely banana leaf essence into the cake.
An alternative to pressure cooking is boiling on the stove. Boil using Medium Low heat for 4 hours. Make sure the cakes are completely submerged in water during the entire cooking process. Use a heavy bowl or plate to weight it down. Also, check the water levels every hour and add boiling water as needed. Never add cold water to the pot. This makes the glutinous rice hard and will ruin the cake.
After the cakes are pressed, wrap each cake with plastic wrap to prevent the banana leaves from drying out. The cakes can be kept a room temperature for 1-2 days. Refrigerate any remaining portions and enjoy within the week. Freeze the whole cakes (still wrapped in banana leaves) for up to 6 months.
3 cups long-grained glutinous rice (also called sweet or sticky rice)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 cup peeled split mung bean
1 1/2 cups water
1 lb pork butt
1/2 tsp sugar
2 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
2-16 oz packages banana leaves, cleaned
8-inch X 9-inch piece of card stock
4-inch X 4-inch piece of card stock
2-inch X 10-inch piece of card stock
3 3/4-inch square food mold
4-8 foot length string or twine
foil, plastic wrap
Use the 8-inch X 9-inch template to cut out 16 sheets of banana leaf. Use the 4-inch X 4-inch template to cut out 4 pieces of banana leaf. Use the 2-inch X 10-inch to cut out 8 strips of banana leaf.
Cut the pork into 1/2-inch thick slices and then cut into smaller pieces.
Peel and chop the shallots. Add the shallots into a bowl along with the sugar, fish sauce, and black pepper. Stir together. Add the pork and combine well. Cover the bowl and then refrigerate overnight.
Wash the mung bean by swirling in a bowl of cold water and then drain the rinse water. Repeat 2 more times or until the water is mostly clear. Fill the bowl with cold water and let the beans soak overnight or for at least 8 hours.
Wash the glutinous rice by swirling in a bowl of cold water and then drain the rinse water. Repeat 2 more times or until the water is mostly clear. Fill the bowl with cold water and let the rice soak overnight or for at least 8 hours.
Rinse the mung bean one more time and then drain well. Transfer to a rice cooker. Add 1/2 tsp salt and the water. Spread out the beans into an even layer. Set to Cook. When the rice cooker switches over to the Keep Warm function, approximately 20 minutes later, mash the mung bean using a paddle spoon. Transfer the mashed mung bean onto a piece of plastic wrap and shape into an 8-inch long log. Measure and cut into 8, 1-inch pieces.
Cover the work surface with a piece of plastic wrap. Place a piece of the mashed mung bean into the food mold and spread out so it’s flat. Add 4 oz marinated pork on top of the mung bean. Add another piece of mashed mung bean on top of the pork and spread out covering the pork and filling out the mold. Remove the mold. Wrap the filling in plastic wrap. Repeat these steps to make the remaining 3 fillings. Place the filling in the freezer.
Drain the glutinous rice using a colander. Gently toss the rice to remove the remaining water. Add 1 tsp salt and combine. Divide the rice into 4 equal portions.
Fold the banana leaves (as shown in the video) and arrange in the 4-inch cardboard form. Add a heaping 1/3 cup rice. Smooth out the rice so it covers the bottom completely. Add the mung bean and pork filling. Add another heaping 1/3 cup rice. Push the rice to the sides around the filling. Tap the sides to settle the rice. Add the remaining rice and smooth out the top. Add the remaining banana leaf square on top of the rice. Fold down the leaves as you would a present. Tie the cake using the string. (See video for demonstration.) Repeat these steps to make the remaining 3 cakes.
Wrap the cakes in foil. Place the cakes into a pressure cooker. Fill the cooker to the maximum line with boiling water. Cover with the lid. Set to High Pressure cook for 90 minutes. After the high pressure cook is completed, allow the cakes to continue cooking using the Keep Warm function for another 90 minutes.
Pour out the hot water from the cooker and fill with cold water. Let the cakes soak for 10 minutes.
Unwrap the foil and transfer the cakes to a bowl of cold water. Gently rinse the cakes and then pat dry.
Cover a baking dish with a towel and place the cakes inside. Cover the cakes with another towel. Place a cutting board on top and then place 2-4 lb bags of sugar on top. Press the cakes for 6-8 hours.
To serve, unwrap the cakes and discard the banana leaves. Cut the cake using twine. (See the video for a demonstration.)
Enjoy the Square Sticky Rice ad Mung Bean Cakes with Dried Carrot and Radish Pickles. They go together wonderfully!
Yields: 4 cakes
Tools I Love and Use in My Kitchen
Check out the below posts for more delicious Lunar New Year’s recipes: