Pisang rai is a traditional Balinese sweet taken with coffee or tea for breakfast, or as a snack later in the day. We enjoyed it for dessert, and although it was presented as ‘Balinese cake’ on the menu, pisang rai is actually battered bananas rolled in coconut. It’s a light, simple combination of local flavours. The batter is crepe-like, and because the preparation involves steaming or boiling, not frying, the coating is soft and not too heavy. The coconut adds some texture. And the cocoonut sugar syrup adds some sweetness.
A local cook, Ayu, showed me how she makes pisang rai. The ingredients are straightforward, with the exception of a Southeast Asian twist that may be hard to source at home. Ayu added a pandan leaf to the boiling water before cooking the bananas. Pandan is common in Southeast Asian and has been referred to as the ‘vanilla of the east’, although the flavour is not quite the same. The leaves must be heated or bruised to extract their flavour, so they are often added to the cooking liquid of rices, and curries. They are also used to wrap meat and fish before grilling or steaming. You may be able to find pandan leaves at specialty stores or Asian markets. But, in case you can’t, I suggest adding just a dash of vanilla extract to the batter.
Pisang rai can be served with a coconut sugar sauce. It’s easy to make. And coconut sugar is likely to become increasingly easier to find at mainstream stores after a recent push from the famous Dr. Oz. It is considered ‘healthier’ because studies show it has a low glycemic index, meaning it causes less fluctuation in your blood sugar levels. Whether you follow Dr. Oz or not, coconut sugar is unrefined, so it maintains its natural minerals and vitamins that are otherwise lost in the refining process. If you can’t find coconut sugar, you can substitute brown sugar, or serve your pisang rai with honey or maple syrup.
MAKES 4 SERVINGS
6 cups water
pinch of salt
2 ripe bananas
1 cup + ¼ cup rice flour
1 tbsp cornstarch
2/3 cup warm water
½ tbsp sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 pandan leaves (alternatively, ½ tsp vanilla extract)
1 cup fresh grated coconut
½ tsp salt
1 cup palm sugar (coconut sugar)
1/3 cup water
Bring lightly salted water to a boil. While you are waiting for the water to boil, you can make the batter and prepare the bananas.
Peel the bananas. Cut each in half width wise, and then in half again lengthwise. You should now have 8 banana segments, 4 from each banana. Set aside.
To make the batter, place 1 cup of the rice flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt into a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center. Pour in half of the warm water and mix with your fingers. A claw-like motion seems to help. Add more water, and if you are using vanilla extract, add it now, and continue mixing until you have a very thick, custard-like batter. You want it to be smooth and without lumps, so keep mixing until all the flour has been absorbed. If your batter is too thin, add some of the remaining ¼ cup of rice flour.
When the water has come to a boil, add the pandan leaves (if using). Dip each banana into the batter to coat generously. Make sure the bananas are well covered. Using tongs, place each banana into the boiling water. Allow to boil for 4-6 minutes. You want the batter to be cooked all the way through, and want the bananas to cook a little as well. When ready, remove from water and allow to drain in a sieve or on a clean kitchen towel.
Place freshly grated coconut on a plate and season with good pinch of salt. The salt helps to keep the coconut fresh. Mix to combine. Roll the warm bananas in the coconut to cover with a thick layer of shredded coconut.
To make the coconut sugar sauce, combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and starts to bubble. Remove from heat. Allow to cool before serving.
When ready to serve, place two bananas on each plate and drizzle with palm sugar syrup.