Food for Thought

WHY WE LOVE BANANA LEAVES and LAPLAP (w/ recipe)

Banana leaves are, we believe, one of god’s great inventions. Speaking of whom, it being right around Passover, we can borrow the emblematic adulation, Dayenu! (=It would have been enough! (that is, it would have sufficed if God had merely done any number of marvelous things to help the Jews, without miraculously parting the Red Sea and leading them to freedom.)) Back to our beloved leaves: if being an instant umbrella — one you can toss aside instead of drip all over the house — were not enough (Dayenu!). As if being fully compostable food packaging for grab-and-go and grilling, boiling, roasting and frying were not enough (Dayenu!).  As if being gorgeously glossy green, graceful and gargantuan were not enough (Dayenu!). These amazing leaves also taste great (rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub!).

You can buy good quality b-leaves frozen at nearly any Latin American or Southeast Asian grocery store. In greater Boston, we recommend our favorite family-owned store that serves both populations: Sunrise Market, 152 Brighton Ave., Allston. The Thai leaves are always fresh and sturdy, as if they were picked, packed and frozen the same day. Inside a $3.50 bag you’ll find 4-6 half-leaves (central rib removed) rolled/folded into a neat square about a foot wide. Let them thaw a bit (run them under water if you are in a rush) before unfolding them, to avoid breakage. Refreeze what you don’t use because they’ll go bad, like any fresh produce, if you leave them in the fridge more than a couple of weeks.

Once you have them, you’ve done the hardest part of making Laplap*, a cake of starchy vegetables roasted in coconut milk with leaves from the nonfruiting, banana-like, Laplap plant. Traditionally, taro, breadfruit, or other vegetables are grated/pounded/packed into a loaf, mixed with greens and baked with meat in a pit lined with leaves and hot rocks (think clam bake). The way we make laplap, we slice the ingredients (including tomatoes, which are apparently a recent local (resort?) addition) and roast it closed. Then, we open up the top to get caramelized and crusty, and the whole thing is absolutely finger-licking addictive. After working out the kinks of transfering the pit concept to an electric oven and a 9×12 pan, we congratulated ourselves on a job well done, took a few photos and dug in. It was impossible to stop slicing off just one more piece and in no time half the pan was GONE. Talk about miracles!

We developed our recipe while researching a dinner we served at a screening of the film Tanna, an evening orchestrated by Belmont World Film. Laplap is a signature dish of Tanna, an island in the tropical island nation Vanuatu, not far from Papua New Guinea. Our oven-baked laplap lacks the smoky flavor of the pit, but the banana leaves impart a distinctive, earthy, sweet flavor that will bring you closer to the original. We hope that any Vanuatuans reading this forgive us for taking great liberties, including slicing instead of pounding the ingredients, caramelizing the top, and leaving out the meat.

How to make laplap — 8-12 regular servings (or about half that, if you act like us)
1T coconut or other oil (to grease pan)
1 average amazing banana leaf
3lbs starchy tropical roots/veggies (cassava/manioc, breadfruit, white yams, unripe plantains, taro). A combo we like:
– 1lb peeled cassava/manioc (can get this frozen), woody core “string” removed
– 1/2 lb washed purple skinned, white yams (these add crunch)
– 3/4 lb skinned giant taro (small taro is fine but 50% waste)
– 3/4 lb peeled, definitely unripe but ideally slightly yellow plantains (from 2 whole)
8oz frozen/defrosted or 1 bunch fresh greens (chard, kale, collards), blanched and chopped.
3-6 plum tomatoes, sliced about 1/3″ in circles
2.5 cups good quality coconut milk (NOT LITE!!!), cream/milk well mixed (1.5 cans; we prefer frozen, without any additives, or Chaokoh if canned. Thai Kitchen and 365 are fine too. You can make coconut milk from a whole brown coconut if you have a bunch of time and some muscle. If you go that route,  buy 2 because you can easily get a bad one.)
Salt to taste (we use 1.5t very coarse salt, a pinch more scattered over the top)

  • Oven 375F (350F convection)
  • Oil a 9×12 pan. Fit two layers of banana leaves over the bottom of pan and about 1″ up the sides of the pan. (A baking platter, like Nambe, with a wide lip, or a 1/2-sheet baking pan, will bake faster and give you more thin, caramelized crusty parts. Adjust baking time accordingly.)
  • Thinly slice the prepared manioc, taro, yams and plantains approx. 2mm (food processor really helps!). Dump into large bowl.
  • Mix veggies with defrosted/blanched greens, 1.75c (1 can) milk and salt until every slice is equally coated with coconut milk and the greens are well distributed.
  • Pile vegetables into pan and pat to an even depth. Layer sliced tomatoes across top. Top with another 2 layers of banana leaves and tuck into sides. Cover with lid or tight heavy-duty foil.
  • Bake 45-60min until tender but not mushy. Remove foil and top layers of banana leaves. Lower temp to 350F (325F convection) and bake, open, another 15 minutes or tomatoes are partially dried and shriveled.
  • Remove from oven. Switch heat to BROIL.
  • Drizzle 1/4cup (or more to taste) of the remaining coconut milk over top. No banana leaves should be poking up around the sides. They can ignite. Broil a few inches from element, approx. 5 minutes until coconut milk has soaked in and vegetables are caramelized/tinged with black.
  • If you want it super coconuty, add more c-milk when you remove the top layers of banana leaves even before you broil it. Poke a few holes in the surface of the veggies. Let that soak in while you are baking at 350, then add more for the final broiling.
  • Let us know how you like it! Note: Don’t eat the banana leaves 🙂

THE REAL LAPLAP:

To see how far our coconut rolled from the tree, here’s a clip from an interview between a Vanuatuan woman and an Australian ABC Radio correspondent:

KERRI RITCHIE: What is Lap Lap? It’s the big dish for Vanuatu.
MARIE: Lap Lap is food… our local food in Vanuatu.
KERRI RITCHIE: I’ve never excelled at cooking, but I was told in Vanuatu that even skilled chefs find Lap Lap hard work. The Ni Van women joke that they can make it in their sleep. Lap Lap takes days doesn’t it?
MARIE: Yes every day I make the Lap Lap. With the family, we make Lap Lap.
Lap Lap is like a root vegetable cake. First, Ni Van grate up taro and pound it into a paste. They then smash open a coconut to get the milk. The taro paste is spread out on a big green banana leaf and sprinkled with a bit of the coconut milk. Then a layer of island cabbage is added. More coconut milk is poured in followed by another layer of the paste. Then the meat is added – such as pork, beef or fish, and the whole thing is wrapped up in the big green leaves. Then it’s put in the ground in a rock oven and cooked for about half an hour.
KERRI RITCHIE: Do you eat a lot of Lap Lap?
MARIE: Yes, Lap Lap is a local tradition in Vanuatu. People like the Lap Lap in Vanuatu.
From www.abc.net.au/correspondents/content/2008/s2528790.htm

*Lap-Lap (hyphenated) means loin cloth. No idea if it’s derived from using a leaf, or this particular leaf. No idea how it might be pronounced different from the dish. Let us know if you find out more!

PARTY TIP: BEEZ & CHEEZ

Trill BEEZcotti are only lightly sweetened. Their honey edge is extremely versatile. They make great platforms for AGED HARD CHEESES (goudas, cheddars, parm-style), BLUE CHEESES (a local fave is Bayley Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill on a Sesame Anise BEE) and FRESH GOAT CHEESES, especially when it’s doused with cracked pepper. Then pour some wine or spirits. Cheers!

To serve: For cheese, we prefer Sesame Anise, Honey Almond or Sea Salt Honey Almond BEEZ. You can break your BEEZ casual-like and scatter around the cheez. Or use a sharp knife and cut squares. The BEEZ are so flavorful that you just need a small piece, big enough to hold a dab of soft cheese or let the harder slices overhang.

BEEZ offer a gustatory surprise and other hosting bonuses. Put a jar of honey out for your guests to drizzle, and you know what the cheez board and honey server will look like pretty soon. Drizzle it in advance and by the time your friends see it the honey has soaked in, lost its glossy appeal and sort of jaundiced everything. A fallen crisp wafer is a lot easier to pick up the next day than the sticky mess from someone dragging a drooling cracker from the table to their mouth. Sorry, was that gross?

We really hope that you give/gift it a try. Share any terrific BEEZ & cheez matches with us.

WHY WE LOVE PANELA SUGAR

Credit: misskingcooking

At the heart of a Trill Earthquake is panela sugar, an unrefined, dehydrated Central American cane juice, with all of its mineraly goodness intact. Panela imparts a caramelized fruity flavor and moist chewiness. We’ve been using panela since our Cooking Culture days, when we would dip ripe plantains straight from the frying pan into our panela rum sauce. Yummee.

Here’s the short story about panela production. People cut and gather sugar cane, crush and squeeze the juice out of it, boil the juice in copper or iron kettles over fires that can be stoked with the cane fibers, and cool the resulting syrup in blocks or cones. Without the centrifuged extraction and chemicals that create white sugar and molasses, panela’s robust flavors and micro-nutrients remain intact. We’ve read that 20% of panela is something other than sucrose. By comparison, commercial brown sugar (molasses mixed back into white sugar) has a flat flavor profile. (Wholesome Sweeteners makes a terrific brown sugar — organic, fair trade.)

Whether round, square or cone-shaped, panela bricks are pretty darn hard, but you can cleave them into manageable chunks with a heavy knife or gentle taps from a mallet. We used to hand grate small batches, but now we speak kindly to our 20-year old Cuisinart before we fill the feed tube and grate a gallon at a time. The shreds last well if kept airtight. Substitute panela for brown sugar or honey or any sweetener, for recipes that like the moisture. Or just eat it straight.

We usually buy our panela from Guatemalan-owned La Internacional in Union Square, a treasure trove of Central American and Caribbean ingredients.

Want to know more about panela? Check out this post from Jiva and a video that takes you there.

ABOUT OUR LOGO

Trill foods_LogoFolks have asked where our logo came from. It is the handwork of British-Phillipino graphic designer Dana Gob of “we-made-this”. Laurie met Dana in Phnom Penh in 2013 where her designs and branding were in demand among Cambodia’s growing cadre of savvy entrepreneurs and passionate social enterprisers. Now, Dana divides her time between London and the Phillipines where she and her husband have converted an old cashew plantation and chunk of forest on Palawan Island into an eco-friendly resort they call Santeria.

THE GLOBE STORY

We were flabbergasted as much as we were flattered to receive a full page of coverage in the 2014 New Year’s Eve edition of the Boston Globe by journalist, blogger, teacher and cookbook author Clara Silverstein — whom we know from her years as a singer in the Boston Village Gamelan. Silverstein’s story features aspects of Trill we don’t often have an opportunity to share.