Another entry for Lasang Pinoy’s 20th Edition titled “Binalot – All Wrapped Up!”. This dish is simply called “Binalot” by Bicolanos. It’s shrimp and coconut meat wrapped in gabi leaves then stewed and braised in coconut cream and herbs and spices.
This is one dish I’d never seen or tasted before but it intrigued me no end when Youngest Sister first told me about it. I asked two native Bicolanas I know about it. One was our laundrywoman who also plants and sells vegetables for a sideline. She also brought me the fresh taro leaves and herbs I needed. Actually, she brought me a whole lot of leaves yesterday…but more on that in the next post.
Apparently, I made one big mistake according to Youngest Sister. The wrap should have less stuffing and more of the leaves. I only used one large taro leaf per pouch. It would have been more interesting with more layers of leaves soaking up the coconut cream. She said I also should have let it dry further, till only the coconut oils are left in the pan. My big worry during cooking was drying it up too much that the pouches were going to burn! It turned out alright. My sister said it was delicious, and suprisingly, my husband loved it.
I had a little problem sourcing the coconut meat for the stuffing. You need to use the “bucayo-stage” coconut meat. There are several stages to a coconut: mala-uhog (literally, snot-like), mala-kanin (rice-like, for salads), bucayo (thick meat but not mature enough to yield coconut milk), niyog (mature, for milk extraction mainly). I asked our buko-man who peddles fresh young coconuts in our neighborhood to find me some and deliver it the next day. He didn’t show, so I assumed he didn’t find any. I went to the small market a few blocks away from our place and found the mature coconuts but not the bucayo ones. I saw a buko cart sitting nearby, but the buko-man was nowhere to be found. We waited, and waited…people stopped to buy his buko and kind-hearted strangers started selling them buko juice and leaving the money in a jar which the buko-man also left!
Finally he shows up and explains he went for his mid-morning snack. He picks me a green coconut with flecks of brown on it, but it isn’t bucayo…more like mala-kanin. But what do I know, so I take it. I spy another coconut in the corner of his cart. It had more flecks of brown on the surface so I asked him to try that one. Voila! It was perfect!
Lemongrass and herba buena is also used to flavor this dish. Herba buena is something my laundrywoman says is different from the local oregano, but she brought me fresh oregano anyway. The heart-shaped taro leaf is what I used for a backdrop to showcase these two herbs.
Now for the recipe. I’ll try to give you details as experienced by a first-timer. I’ll also point out where the mistakes were made so you can decide how to proceed when you try this recipe.
shredded meat of about 2 bucayo-stage coconuts, about 3 cups (1 coconut will do)
1/4 kilo fresh shrimp, peeled and roughly chopped
about 4 c. milk of 3 mature coconuts, extracted with about 3/4 c. water added
12-15 taro leaves for wrapping, lightly wiped with a damp cloth to remove any debris. If you get rust stains on your cloth, it’s not mud, just the sap from the leaf. Be sure to cut the stem at the center of the leaf so it’s easier for wrapping. Just cut it with a knife till it’s flat.
about 6 leaves fresh Philippine oregano
about 2 stalks lemongrass, washed and cut in 1-inch pieces, pound with the back of a knife to release the flavors
5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 large onion, peeled and minced
2-inch ginger root, peeled and sliced thin
2-3 siling haba or pepperoncini peppers
2-3 bird chilis or any hot chili you prefer
1 tsp. rock salt
2 tbsps. fish sauce
coconut leaf rib or kitchen twine for tying the pouches
There’s a lot of prep work for the ingredients but once you have it all ready, the next step is just wrapping and cooking.
Lay out a taro leaf on a small tray and place about 2 tablespoons of the coconut meat, Top it with a tablespoon of shrimp. Wrap as you would a paper envelope and tuck in the last flap into a fold. Repeat the wrapping 3 times with more leaves. Tie it lightly just to keep it from unravelling during the cooking. Repeat till you’re out of stuffing and leaves, after making about 4 pouches.
My mistake here was putting more stuffing than was necessary, about 1/2 c. coconut meat and 1/4 c. shrimp and just using one leaf to wrap it. This made my pouches quite flimsy.
In a flat-bottomed casserole, place the rest of the ingredients minus the liquids.
Set your pouches over this and pour the coconut milk over it. Add the fish sauce and cook covered over medium heat about 1.5 hours or until the sauce is gone and you are left with nothing but the coconut oils covering the bottom of your pan.
Since the pouches will be sturdier wrapped in more leaves, you can then turn it over once in the middle of the cooking.
Serve individual pouches unwrapped at the top and sprinkled with latik.