Finally! I'm back home in CT, just in time for the Winter Solstice. Every year I help out my mom with one of my favourite desserts, tangyuan, traditionally eaten by many Chinese and Taiwanese families for the Dongzhi Festival, which celebrates the solstice. The sun'll be out for longer and longer, and in Taiwanese culture this corresponds to an influx of positive energy. Eating tangyuan on the winter solstice also signifies officially becoming one year older. Tangyuan has always been one of my favourite traditional dishes to make and eat, so I'll be sharing a basic recipe with y'all, with some help from my dear mother.
For the “dumplings”:
– Glutinous rice flour
While these two ingredients can be used alone, an assortment of other ingredients can be added for color and flavor: mashed sweet potato, matcha powder, food coloring, and confectioner’s sugar are some ingredients that I’ve used successfully in the past.
For the soup:
– Brown sugar
I usually like the soup with grated ginger, and sometimes my mom adds soft, boiled peanuts. Some other common ingredients include boiled mung beans or adzuki beans.
Simple so far, no? We’ll start off with making the dumplings. The base ingredient is glutinous rice flour, which is commonly found in most asian grocery stores. It usually comes in packaging similar to this:
**Make sure you buy glutinous rice flour and not regular rice flour, or else the dumplings won’t be “QQ” (a Taiwanese descriptor for “chewy”).
First, combine the rice flour with boiled water. You want to make a sort of well in the rice flour so the water pools in the middle, and stir to combine like so. You only need to add a little bit, since this flour is especially absorbent!
(If you plan on adding matcha powder or something similar/water-soluble, I would recommend dissolving it in the hot water prior to adding it. To add sweet potatoes, fold and knead the flour gradually into slightly cooled mashed sweet potatoes until it forms a firm dough.)
The tricky part is getting the right ratio of flour to water… keep stirring with chopsticks or your utensil of choice to combine (it’ll stick like glue to your hands otherwise), and depending on how it looks, you may need to add either more cool water or more flour.
The two pictures below show the dough when it’s too dry and when it’s too wet, respectively.
When all the flour has stuck together, knead until smooth. The texture of the dough that you should be aiming for is comparable to pinching one’s earlobe.
At this point you can add a few drops of blood as a sacrificial offering. (Ha ha… it’s red food coloring…) You can also add it to the hot water in the beginning, but I’m a fan of the subtle swirls of color that result from adding it later.
I used red and green food coloring as a tribute to Christmas. A bit pale… but coincidentally, tangyuan is traditionally white, pink, and green.
Aaaand now for my favorite part! Using your hands, take small pieces of the dough and roll into small spheres, a tad larger than your average marble. With practice, you can roll multiple tangyuan simultaneously. The dough has a tendency to stick to your hands; a trick my mom uses is a few drops of canola or vegetable oil on her palms.
Lay them out on a tray or plate; take care that they don’t get stuck together! Here’s a picture of my little tangyuan babies! I had fun experimenting with kneading different colors together…
**Storage tip: if you’re not going to eat them all right away, freeze in a ziplock bag.
Next: boil! They’ll first sink to the bottom, and you know they’re ready when they float to the top.
Boiling shouldn’t take very long at all, perhaps just a few minutes, so keep an eye on them! In the meantime, the broth is simply water sweetened with brown sugar and flavored with grated ginger.
**Mama’s tips: make a concentrated solution and dilute the “syrup” to your liking. Although tangyuan is traditionally eaten hot, I’ve enjoyed it served chilled by melting ice cubes in the soup and adding the hot dumplings after shocking them in cold water to cool them off a bit. Another tip for grating ginger: since it goes bad/molds fairly quickly, store chunks of ginger in the freezer. It will keep longer, and it’s very easy to “grate” with a serrated knife when it’s frozen.
Here’s the concentrated soup simmering away… those little bits floating around is the grated ginger. Add some boiled peanuts, mung beans, or adzuki beans if you like (the water used to boil them can also be used to add another dimension of flavor to the soup).
And finally, combine and serve!
P.S. I’ve been nicknamed “sloris” for a reason (slow loris / iris)… sorry to keep everyone waiting for this post! Looking forward to sharing more recipes in the future. Until then… happy solstice!