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Nom Kom is a very old, very traditional Khmer cake wrapped in banana leaves in a pyramid shape. It is a simple cake, made with glutinous rice flour and has coconut, palm sugar, and black sesame seed filling. All the ingredients you can easily find in your local supermarket. While banana leaves are available at the frozen aisle of Asian markets, fresh leaves can sometimes be found at Latin markets as well. Nom Kom is one of several traditional cakes my grandmother likes to serve at our family’s various religious ceremonies throughout the years.
It is a simple cake, as stated above, but nom kom also bears a religious connotation as well. It represents the yoni (vulva, womb), a personification of the divine feminine creative power, the mark of Mother Shakti. In Hinduism, the yoni is the counterpart to the linga, the symbol of Lord Shiva. So of course, num kom has its counterpart, num ansom. At engagement and wedding ceremonies, num kom and num ansom are always presented together to symbolize the union of the linga and the yoni, the representation of the eternal process of creation and regeneration, the union of male and female principles. In Khmer, that union is called mea ba (mother, father).
Now, let’s talk about the ingredients, five including salt. Freshly grated coconut is always fantastic, but frozen ones are perfectly fine to use. Dried, desiccated coconut is another good option, but you do need to reconstitute with a bit of coconut milk so that it’d be easier to cook. If using fresh banana leaves, they need to be hung out in the sun for about a day so that they won’t crack or break when you fold and wrap them.
16 oz. grated coconut
8 oz. palm sugar
1 oz. black sesame seeds, roasted
A generous pinch of salt
3 cups glutinous rice flour
1 ½ cups warm water
Banana leaves for wrapping
Flavorless oil for greasing
Prepare the filling: heat pan over low heat. Add palm sugar and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Add the grated coconut and salt. Simmer until the coconut becomes sticky and has absorbed all the sugar. Remove from heat, sprinkle with sesame seeds and allow to cool down. Make small balls of the mixture, about 1 tbsp. size. You’ll get about 24 to 27 balls.
Make the dough: place the flour in a mixing bowl and add warm water and mix until it resembles smooth and workable dough, that is not too wet and can hold its shape. If it crumbles, it’s too dry, just add a bit more water. If it’s too soft, add a bit of flour. Cover the dough with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out.
Prepare the banana leaves: cut the leaves into a round shape of 9 inch diameter. Grease the leaves with oil. And bring a big pot of water to a boil.
To assemble the cakes: take a piece of dough, about 1 tbsp. and roll it into a ball. Place each ball of dough on the palm of your hand and lightly flatten the ball. Place the filling in the center and bring the edges of the dough up over the filling and seal the ball by pinching the sides together. Roll into a ball. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
To wrap the cakes: fold the prepared leaf almost in half, leave 1/2 centimeter. Fold the leaf in half again, and you’ll have two pockets. Place the dough in the one pocket away from you. Fold down the side closer to your thumbs to cover the dough. Fold down the left and right sides and finish with the last fold. Steam the cakes for 20 minutes.
Here are some picture demonstration: