Banana leaves as food parcels
Imparting a slightly sweet but not overly strong flavour to foods, banana leaves are a popular cooking vessel in Southeast Asia. They’re strong, sturdy, and can be used to steam and/or fry food. You’ll see them as food parcels grilled on the streets, in villages, in homes. Common sweet recipes use sticky rice based fillings and savoury fillings often consist of fish based concoctions. In my recipe I chose simple tempeh and aromatic Cambodian lemongrass paste for the filling.
Before I opted for a wholly vegan diet I developed a rather insistent craving for hard boiled eggs once or twice a month. Upon eliminating them from my diet I found it wasn’t cheese that was the hardest to give up, as everyone claimed it would be, but eggs. My point is those cravings have metamorphosed into one for these fermented soya bean cakes; when I want tempeh I need to have tempeh, and this recipe was born on such a day.
I tend to opt for tempeh as a replacement in recipes that might otherwise use fish filets, and that’s what I’ve done here. Steamed and fried in banana leaves, tempeh develops a flaky and delicate texture with a delicate flavour that can be intensified to suit your own preferences (add more or less paste, sauces, and/or other seasonings).
If you’ve got an outdoor grill then opt for that over a pan (it’s more traditional and the flavour will rock)!
Griddled Tempeh and Khmer Curry Paste in Banana Leaves
- Mix the sugar, lime, soy sauce, and water in a pain. Add the tempeh pieces and turn the heat to medium. Cook until about half of the liquid is gone before flipping the tempeh pieces and cooking until the pan is nearly dry. Remove from the heat.
- Cut 4 pieces of banana leaf to a size a little larger than what you’d need to wrap the tempeh slices as if they were a gift. Lay a piece of tempeh in the centre of each sheet and spoon about two teaspoons of the curry paste on top of each slice, spreading it to cover the whole piece.
- Fold the banana leaf first over the longest edges of the tempeh, and then the shortest. Place the parcels on a grill pan with the wrapped side down (once it cooks a bit, they won’t quite bind closed but they’ll remain sealed).
- Fry for around 10 minutes on each side. My suggestion is to open a parcel and have a taste halfway through- if the curry paste flavour is still too strong for you then cook a little while longer.
- Serve hot with rice or a simple stir fry and a selection of condiments (soy sauce, lime, sugar, chili sauce, etc…).