In Chinese tradition, we don´t eat dessert after the main dish. We believe that eating sweet things after dinner will be difficult to digest. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have desserts. During big events or festivals, we make special snacks or food. The kind of food depends on which festival, like Mooncakes for the Moon Festival.
Sticky rice (glutinous rice) is used quite often for making desserts in southern China. Desserts made by sticky rice can be steamed, deep fried or cooked in a sweet soup. Today I am going to make steamed sticky pumpkin balls, because now is the pumpkin season (okay, it’s a little late, I know.)
First peel the skin of the pumpkin and cut into thin slices, so that they are easy and fast to steam. Then steam 15 minutes until soft. Take the steamed pumpkin and place in a big pot. Add sticky rice powder, stir good until it becomes like dough. Roll small balls of around 4x4cm, then put them in a steamer and steam for 6 or 7 minutes more. After the sticky balls cool down, brush a little water on them, and roll them in grated coconut.
TIP: You shouldn´t eat too much glutinous rice, because it is difficult to digest. If you have made too much dough, you can freeze it, but first make balls of it. Later you can steam them and sprinkle with grated coconut.
On the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar (this year June 12, 2013), the annual Dragon boat festival is held in China (Duanwu festival). During this festival, local teams hold races in “Dragon boats” which they made by themselves. It is great spectacle to watch. Also traditionally a special kind of drink is served and Zongzi are eaten. The history of this dish is very interesting, and dates back to 300 BC. The famous Chinese poet Qu Yuan wanted to warn his emperor to the danger of the Qin soldiers who wanted to take over the empire. The emperor didn’t listen to him, but shortly after, the capital Ying was conquered by the soldiers. Qu Yuan committed suicide by jumping into the river because he failed to help out his country.
Followers of Qu Yuan took boats to the river to try and find him. They beat on large drums to scare away the fish, and threw packages of rice into the river, so that the fish would eat the rice, and not Qu Yuan’s body. Now every year the Dragon boat festival is held and Zongzi are eaten to commemorate Qu Yuan and the love he had for his country.
The rice dumplings which I will prepare are very well known; every Chinese knows them. Also in other Asian countries such as Malaysia and the Philippines this dish is known, since it was introduced there by the Chinese. Zongzi mostly consist of sticky rice with red beans or marinated meat inside, and are wrapped in leaves before cooking. This dish requires some preparation and skill, because the sticky rice and other ingredients need to soak for one night before further processing. Also wrapping the packages could post a challenge.
The sticky rice, beans, shii take mushrooms and bamboo leaves all need to soak for one night in water, keep this in mind!
Take two plastic boxes or large bowls, and add the rice and the beans to each of them. Fill the bowls with water. The rice will soak up a lot of water, so make sure that you add enough (check after some hours) and add more if necessary
Soak the bamboo leaves for one night in a large wok or just in the sink
Soak the dried shii take mushrooms for half an our in a bowl of warm water. When they are reasonably soft, cut them into very small pieces
Cut the bacon into very small pieces. Then marinade the meat and mushrooms with the sauce (soy sauce light & dark, sugar, rice wine and white pepper). Mix well and set aside
Let everything soak and marinade for a minimum of 8 hours (keep the meat in the fridge
After the bamboo leaves have been soaking for 8 hours, cut the tips of each leave with scissors,SEE HERE. Take one leaf and fill it half full of rice, then put either meat or red beans, then top it up with more rice. Wrap it into a triangle (SEE HEREfor photos of the wrapping)
Bind the packages well with the kitchen twine, and make sure that there are no more openings
It is not easy to wrap everything well, I am also not very good at it. That’s why I steamed the Zonzi first for 1 hour, then cooked them in water for 1 more hour. I did this so that they won’t fall apart. This is the best way to cook them, or otherwise you will end up with rice porridge…
Zongzi are eaten warm, but can keep for a long time. You can also freeze them without any problem. After freezing, just cook them in water shortly until they are totally heated
Zongzi are a snack, but they are very filling! You can eat them with a meal, or just as is for lunch. The vegetarian Zongzi with red beans are nice with some honey or icing sugar. The Zongzi with the bacon are more juicy and a little salty. There are other varieties, with the yolk of asalted duck’s egg or other kinds of meat and nuts. Feel free to experiment with this!