I consider budbud kabog to be the finest â€œsumanâ€ type kakanin I have tasted in the Philippines. Itâ€™s a personal choice, I know. But its aroma, subtle flavor, smooth texture and delicious taste all make for that perfect kakanin, particularly paired with a nice ripe Cebuano or Guimaras mango. To me it is â€œlighterâ€ than a rice suman and I can easily eat 2-3 in a single sitting. I have never made a budbud kabog before. But considering that it has so few ingredients (kabog or millet (not the birdseed variety!), coconut milk, sugar and maybe a pinch of salt) it didnâ€™t seem like something that needed a two-year degree from the Culinary Institute to figure out. Hah. Simple things can be truly deceiving. This bloody kakanin has proven to be an even bigger pain in the rear than working out the ensaimada recipe last year. I write this post just so you realize things donâ€™t always work out so easilyâ€¦that a tremendous amount of work, effort, sweat, cusswords, irritation, exasperation sometimes goes into the posts on Marketmanila. But learn with me as I dissect disaster after disaster after disasterâ€¦ At least you get the 5-10 minute version, not the 3-4 days of attempts to get a budbud kabog right! Despite all the tasting, I think I lost weight from the aggravationâ€¦
First of all, let me digress to the kabog or millet itself. Almost impossible to find, locally grown millet or kabog grows wild in the arid barren hills of Northern Cebu, as well as on other Visayan islands. It is collected by hand and it is disappearing from almost all markets in the region. In Cebu, I found it but only after extensive searching. And now isnâ€™t the right season as it has been raining extensively and I understand you need dry summer heat to get the seeds. It also turns rancid rapidly so when the market is out of it, you too are out of luck. At PHP150 per kilo, it is wicked expensive compared to even the most expensive artisanal and unusually colored and fragranced glutinous rice varieties at say PHP80 a kilo. But a little goes a long way. I fuss about millet like it was gold but in fact it is grown commercially in many other parts of the globe. I hope this means that many of Marketmanilaâ€™s readers can make this recipe eventually if they have millet in their areas (and especially banana leaves as well).
At any rate, I had no reference point whatsoever except previous batches of malagkit suman that have been made in our house. I had no recipe, no older relatives to call, no one who volunteered a family heirloom. I was going on this quest for the perfect budbud kabog totally blind. And I fell off a few cliffs in the process. I am bruised in several places but haven’t given up. The issues or potential variables turned out to be many, but I know I was overthinking thisâ€¦thatâ€™s what happens when you havenâ€™t the foggiest clue what you are doing:
1. To soak or not to soak, that is the first key question â€“ the millet or kabog was incredibly dense and hard and like monggo or even rice, it seemed logical that one would soak the seeds and a quick conversation with my sister in New York who cooks also concurred with this view. So for the first batch of budbud I soaked the seeds overnight and changed the water a couple of times.
The next day, I mixed some freshly squeezed coconut milk with the drained kabog and added some sugar and stirred it over a medium flame for just a few minutes as I had read that it shouldnâ€™t cook for too long or it would get too soft. Next I wrapped this mixture up in banana leaves and I was smugly thinking I had nailed this recipe on the first try. After steaming for 20-30 minutes, I tried one of the suman and nearly broke some teeth. While itâ€™s flavor was good, there were definitely uncooked centers of seeds and they were chalky and bitter (the latter a sign of old kabog I eventually surmised). Our cook was mortified that I was going to throw out the entire batch and she decided to steam it for another 30-40 minutes but all we got was seriously overcooked banana leaves and still inedible budbud. Still refusing to throw out the batch, the cook kept the stuff overnight hoping a miracle in the dark would occur. It was only the next day that she conceded we had an utter failure and threw it all out. Meanwhile, in preparation for batch number two, I had again soaked kabog overnight, the this brings up question number twoâ€¦
2. Do you grind up the seeds to prevent the uncooked hard centers?
And the following morning sent the soaked kabog to the market to have it ground up (like rice for suman). It should have been a sign that the guy who operated the grinder had never seen kabog before. Never mind, what came back was a nice smooth grind and I repeated the process of mixing in the coconut milk and sugar and cooking it. This time, the volume of the stuff increased by a lot and after a few minutes I decided to wrap the mixture and steam it again. The pre-cooked mixture looked like it was another winner in the making. However, it was again a dismal failure with uncooked sandy paste-y results. It was at this point that I naturally had to think about how this should be cookedâ€¦
3. Do you steam it, boil it with a little water or completely submerge it in boiling water?
At this point I had gone out and spent a large sum on a book on grains that had the largest chapter on millet I could find in a Manila bookstore. It was disconcerting to see that the recipes seemed so simple and I must be an idiot if I canâ€™t cook millet. At any rate, it stated that too much water turns millet to mush so I decided to try steaming, boiling with a little water, boiling with a lot of water and boiling in a mixture of water and coconut milk. All yielded inedible resultsâ€¦but I was certain that if my mixture was wrong to begin with, no amount of cooking method experimentation would really help.
4. How long do you cook it for before you wrap it in banana leaves?
By the third batch I decided to add more coconut milk and sugar and not pre-cook it before I wrapped it and that was also a disaster. By the fourth attempt, I had the millet ground up dry, making effectively millet flour. The consistency was really smooth and I decided to axe that idea since it would result in a lack of texture for the finished product. We even tried cooking some millet with water and it turned quickly to mush. Nearly exasperated, I searched the internet and found a recipe. Based on proprotions in that recipe, I decided to wing it and do something totally from scratch. First, washed the millet seed, then added it to a LOT more coconut milk that usual and less sugar and I slowly stirred it slowly for nearly 30 minutes (much longer than before) as it doubled or trebled in volume. Now, I had it, I thought. Wrapped up and steamed for an hour, I waited with bated breath until I opened one and tasted itâ€¦this time it was too bloody soft, too oily and not the consistency I wanted. But the flavor was good. I think I just overdid the coconut milk. But I have no more millet to try one more batch. Down 3 kilos, out several hundred pesos in materials and all I can say isâ€¦stay tuned till I get this right. So far, I think my conclusions are this…no need to soak if you have fresh millet, use copious amounts of coconut milk but don’t drown the seeds, add sugar so that the flavor is enhanced, not overpowered and stir for at least 25 minutes over low heat to increase the volume. Steam it for at least 30-45 minutes to get the ideal budbud kabog. I may not even share the final recipe then except as a Christmas present to all of Marketmanilaâ€™s regular readers. You can make my life a lot easier if you have access to a detailed recipe that I can tryâ€¦I have my scouts out there in search of 5 kilos of millet for me to continue my quest for the perfect home made budbud kabog! Phew, I never thought a simple recipe with three ingredients could be so complicated!