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Asian cookery, with an emphasis on the traditional, underappreciated, or misunderstood elements thereof.

Seriously Asian: Glutinous Rice Balls (Tang yuan)

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A popular snack all over China, glutinous rice balls (tang yuan) are filled with red bean, sesame, peanut, and other sweet fillings that ooze out from mochi-like dumplings skins. The dumpling skins owe their pleasantly gummy texture to glutinous rice flour, which produces a chewier dough.

You'll find packets of frozen tang yuan at most Chinese supermarkets, and these days the fillings not only come in the standard assortment, but have branched out into fancy-sounding ones like "sweet osmanthanus" and "chestnut and sesame seed." Why then, take the trouble of making your own at home?

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Why not? The dough for tang yuan is a simple combination of glutinous rice flour, regular rice flour, and water. Once you get the hang of enclosing the dough around nuggets of sweet filling, you'll find that making your own tang yuan takes no more than half an hour.

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The best part about making your own is that you can experiment with all kinds of nuts and pastes. The filling is a simple combination of sugar, lard, and a filling of nuts and/or beans. Instead of ground peanut or sesame, you can use almonds, cashews, and pecans. (To prepare the nuts: roast them, chop them up, and grind them in a mortar and pestle before mixing with lard and sugar.)

Or, if you've always found the red bean filling in supermarket tang yuan to be bland, you can make your own from dried adzuki beans. Coconut flakes are a great addition to fillings of any kind.

You can even vary the fat, substituting coconut oil for the traditional lard. I like to use the lard that I confit with for a filling that's extra meaty and mildly savory. You could also play around with smoky bacon fat.

Really, you can't go wrong with the filling. Who would turn down chewy rice balls that release a lava-like concoction that's sweet, nutty, and porky? Even the water in which tang yuan simmers is surprisingly soothing and tasty to sip between rice ball bites. Make the balls in large batches and freeze them for a quick breakfast or dessert.

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