My memories of palitao are not particularly fond. So I was surprised when it ranked in the upper 30 Pinoy desserts in the recent poll we took. I recall a relatively bland, chewy dessert that did not leave a lasting impression. Since I had never made palitao before, I decided to give it a try and see if I could appreciate it now that I am older, possibly wiser, and certainly shorter than in my youth. Talk about making something out of just a few ingredients! Malagkit (glutinous rice), water, grated coconut and sugar! Talk about being accessible and doable by just about anyone in the archipelago! If I ever get stuck on a deserted island with rice and sugar I can have a massive palitao buffet for wayward survivors of sunken ferriesâ€¦
To make, take several cups of malagkit or glutinous rice and soak it in double the amount of water for at least 8 hours. Grind the rice in a stone grinder until this paste-y mess. I didnâ€™t have a stone grinder, so I blitzed the soaked rice in a food processor with some of the soaking water until pretty fine. I have to admit this was not the best way to do it as I was increasingly anxious that it wasnâ€™t fine enoughâ€¦and I did several minutes of blitzing. Iâ€™m told you can easily buy the ground malagkit at the market, our cook belatedly informs meâ€¦ Alternatively, you can buy some rice flour if abroad and mix it with water and knead. Once blitzed, I wrapped the mush in a clean kitchen towel and squeezed it to remove excess moisture. The resulting white sludge is in the photo at right.
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Take some of the rice mixture and form it into small balls and flatten them into oblongs. Drop them into the boiling water and once they float to the surface, they are done. How simple was that? Remove from the water, pat dry and roll in freshly grated young coconut (younger than the stage you use to extract coconut milk). Sprinkle with white sugar, brown sugar and sesame seeds in whatever combination you prefer. Freshly made, it was surprisingly good. The slight chewiness of the rice rake, the texture and flavor of really fresh young coconut and the sweetness of the sugar made for a very satisfying and easy dessert/snack. My favorite version was the one with the medium dark brown sugar and coconut. Next favorite was with brown sugar and sesame seeds and the plainest one with white sugar and coconut was pretty good as well. The thing with palitao is that I think it is good for a limited amount of timeâ€¦ if freshly made with excellent ingredients, it can be simply delicious, if poorly made it can be like a lump of rice and elmerâ€™s glue in your mouth and stomachâ€¦ To ensure success, start with superb grated coconut, stuff you would eat by itself, some excellent brown sugar, and use fresh sesame seeds that you have toasted just before using!