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I had just made Ginataang Bilo-Bilo, or round glutinous rice balls cooked in coconut milk for the first day of the year. It was a Filipino New Year’s tradition which I remember from childhood. My late mom and the elder relatives in the Philippines always insisted we ate “something round” to start off the year. The round shapes resembled coins, thus symbolizing money and prosperity.
There is a fine line between tradition and superstition. But ultimately, no one wants to turn away the promise of prosperity. So whether it’s a tradition or superstition, most Filipinos like to make “bilo-bilo” for the New Year. Conveniently, I had rice flour to make the rice balls. Plus I had cans of coconut milk and the jackfruit in my Filipino pantry here in my American kitchen.
Bilo-bilo comes from the root word “bilog” (a Tagalog word which translates to ‘round’). The word ‘ginataan’ comes from the word ‘gata’ which is coconut milk. So ‘ginataan’ (say “gee-nah-tah-anh”) means ‘made of coconut’. In the Philippines, there are many desserts, snacks and main dishes cooked with coconut, so you will find the word “ginataan” used in many recipes and cookbooks.
This is a snack or dessert that goes beyond the New Year’s. ‘Bilo-bilo’ can be served as a snack after school or after coming home from work. It can be served cold or warm. We like it served warm, the sweet coconut broth cascading down from each yummy gummy rice ‘bilo-bilo’. Sometimes, I add a cup or two of cooked tiny tapioca balls or “sago” as we call them. This afternoon, for the first day of the year, I did not have the tapioca or sago balls available, so I promised my family the tiny translucent sago would be in it next time.
Nothing spells sheer comfort like a bowl of warm, thick, rich ginataang bilo-bilo. The glistening snowy white creamy coconut milk clings to the rice balls and together with the fruity langka strips, the entire experience is simply scrumptious.
rice flour (Mochiko brand) - 1 cup, to make 20 rice balls or bilo-bilo
water - 1/2 cup, to make bilo-bilo or rice balls
jackfruit or langka (canned) - 2 cups sliced in strips, drain syrup
coconut milk - 2 cups
water - 1 cup, to add to coconut milk
granulated sugar - 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup, to add to coconut milk
cooked tapioca balls or sago - 1 cup (bottled), from Asian markets
In a medium-sized bowl, mix the rice flour and water. Slowly mix the flour and water till the flour becomes less powdery and starts to get thick and solid. Using your hands, shape the rice flour mixture into one-inch sized balls. Put them in a dry, large plate. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to one hour for the rice balls to firm up.
- Separately, over medium heat, in a medium-sized stockpot, add the coconut milk, water and sugar. Stir to blend well. Allow the coconut milk mixture to heat up then start to bubble. Lower heat to a simmer and let the mixture cook for ten minutes. Stir the coconut milk and water a few times and make sure heat is kept at a simmer or milk might curdle.
- Add the bilo-bilo rice flour balls to the coconut milk mixture. Stir gently so coconut milk coats the rice balls. Add the strips of langka/jackfruit and blend well. Over low-medium heat, cook for about 6 minutes more till rice balls puff up and get slightly enlarged. The langka strips will soften at this same amount of time. Keep stirring the mixture every so often. The rice balls or ‘bilo-bilo’ tend to stick to the bottom of the stockpot if left unattended.
- If available, throw in the cup of tapioca balls or “sago” at this time and stir the mixture so the sago blends with the rest of the ingredients.
Serve warm. Or if preferred, this can be served cold, too.
- How to store: keep this Ginataan Bilo-Bilo refrigerated in a covered container. It will keep for about three days in the refrigerator.
Elizabeth Ann Quirino, based in New Jersey is a journalist and author of the “How to Cook Philippine Desserts: Cakes and Snacks” Cookbook. She is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals and blogs about Filipino home cooking on her site AsianInAmericaMag.com.
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