This Vietnamese style dumpling is very special. The dough is made with (glutinous) rice flour mixed with pureed ramie leaves. Ramie plant (Boehmeria nivea) is actually a plant that produce fibers. Ramie leaves are green, but when they are cooked (steamed), they turn into a black color.
This dumpling is originated in northern Vietnam, where it is called bánh gai which literally means “ramie cake”.
In southern Vietnam, the ramie-rice dough is also adapted to a traditional dumpling called bánh ít, and this ramie version is called bánh ít lá gai.
Technically, bánh gai and bánh ít lá gai are almost the same. The small difference is: the northern one is wrapped in a flat shape in dried banana leaves before getting steamed, while the southern one is wrapped in green banana leaves and in a pyramid shape.
This recipe follows the northern version. The southern version is a little more challenging in wrapping phase. It’s also noted that even in northern version, there are some discrepancies in the filling ingredients. Some people use mung bean paste with some lard, others use molasses instead of sugar, some used roasted sesame while other use vanilla powder, etc…
Cook green/dried leaves until they are soft, then blend and strain for clumps. Then knead with rice flour to make a dough. If you have ramie leaf powder, just mix with rice flour with some water. Add molasses, and some drops of banana essence or vanilla, and continue to knead, then let the dough rest for 30mins.
Clean the banana leaves with a kitchen tower. Rub your hands with banana essence. Flatten a dough ball then add a filling ball. Seal the ball then slightly flatten it. Sprinkle some roasted sesame seeds on the outside and press them with your fingers. Finally, wrap each dumpling in some layers of banana leaves.
Dried banana leaves help preserve the dumplings for a few extra days, but probably it won't be necessary if you just keep them in the fridge.