Chinese New Year is officially over! Monday (February 22) was the 15th day of Chinese New Year, which is also the last day of the holiday. After this, everyone returns to work and there will be no more new years’ bidings and life goes back to normal.
Side note: the Chinese really know how to celebrate the New Year with 15 days of festivities. Why isn’t the Western New Year like this??
And what happens on the 15th day of the New Year? In China, this day is known as Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节). It’s a day to gather with family, lanterns are lit, there are holiday performances on TV, fireworks go off all night long in the streets, and we eat a very specific kind of food. Families all over China sit down for a meal of glutinous rice dumplings.
Yuan xiao (元宵) or tang yuan (汤圆) are basically sticky rice balls filled with various sweet fillings. There is little difference between the two in terms of the finished product, but there is a difference in the way they are made. Yuan xiao is made by rolling the filling over and over in loose dough until a thick layer of wrapping forms, while tang yuan is made by wrapping the filling in prepared dough. But enough with the technicalities… both ways end up with sticky little bundles of deliciousness. For clarification purposes, we made tang yuan since it’s easier and less messy.
And interesting trivia: the 15th day of CNY is always the night of the first full moon of the new year. Is this why we eat these white round balls?? (Okay so I just read up on it, and we actually eat it because the roundness symbolizes togetherness and family gathering.)
In America, we always ate store-bought frozen tang yuan. But because I’m at my grandma’s in Beijing this year, and nothing is ever store-bought in her house, I finally learned to make them myself. Today, I thought I’d once again bring you with me into my grandma’s kitchen and relive this holiday. Pull up and chair and we’ll make some tang yuan together. :)
Note: I’m not good with giving you exact measurements, so you’ll just have to eye it and come up with what looks reasonable to you. But a general good rule for Chinese families is to just make (a lot) more than what each person could reasonably eat ;). If you end up with too many, just freeze them for quick easy snacks later! Tang yuan could last for forever in the freezer.
You will need:
– Glutinous rice flour (it may also be called sweet white rice flour). I don’t think this will be too difficult to find in the store or even on Amazon.
– Fillings of your choice. We made red bean, date, and chocolate (which I think is my new favorite!). Our red bean and date pastes were store bought. Other favorite filling choices are black sesame and peanut (recipes found here and here… neither are too difficult to make).
For the chocolate ones, we just cut up a round Lindor chocolate in half. We also put a small piece of longan fruit in with it. I think other chocolate + fruit fillings would be really yummy too, like chocolate with strawberry!
To make the dough, slowly add cold water into the rice flour and mix until the flour has all lumped together. Knead with your hands until the dough is smooth and soft and non-sticky. (Well, it will be a little sticky because it is sticky rice flour after all, but it shouldn’t be clumping to your hands.)
Wrapping the filling
Cut the dough into some pieces for each ball. (Keep the rest covered so it won’t dry out.) This part will probably have to be trial + error for the first couple of balls, until you figure out the rough size of dough to cut for each.
Now it’s time to wrap the fillings! There are a couple of ways to do it:
For the inexperienced ones (like me), I found it easier to flatten the dough out in my palm into flat circle, and then place the filling in the middle and wrap around it.
For my grandma, she likes to shape the dough into a cup by using the thumb to indent the middle. And then place the filling into it.
Either way is okay, just as long as you get that filling in! And then just close up the top.
If your dough has been sitting out for a bit, then you may find that it has become slightly dry. And when you try to close the top, it will look all crackly like this:
But it’s ok! Just gently roll the cracked dry lump in between your two palms, and the dough will naturally melt into itself again. And you will end up with a perfectly smooth and round ball! (And if it doesn’t, then you need more water in your dough.)
The last step is coating the balls with a generous layer of the same sticky rice flour. I’m not sure if this really does anything extra, maybe just so they won’t stick to each other.
Cooking is simple. Just boil a pot of water until it bubbles and throw your balls in. Push it around in the water once in a while to make sure that none of them stick to the edges of the pot. When they float up, they are done. But you can let it boil for another couple of minutes to extra make sure.
And the best part, enjoy!
I hope you enjoyed this peek into this traditional Chinese food! Besides the 15th day of CNY, tang yuan are also eaten on the winter solstice. For me, I could eat this all year long, and now that I know how to make it, perhaps I no longer have to wait for these special holidays. :)
Have you had these glutinous rice balls before?
This is the first time I did a recipe on this blog! Would you like to see more? Let me know!