I love this dish – a lot. Its chewy texture and its stir-fried combination with minced pork and mushrooms – it is so fragrant and yummy it is simply unresistable. Every time I visit a local pasar malam and walk past a stall that sells this dish, I always feel very tempted to buy a pack of abacus seed for myself. Add some chilli to it and the pairing for this dish becomes flawless.
This dish is a well-known Hakka dish called 算盘子 (literally ‘abacus’). The dough is made with yam and flour. This dough is in turn shaped and kneaded into abacus. It is a very popular dish to make during the festive seasons such as the Chinese New Year as it symbolises wealth and prosperity.
I made a whole big batch of these abacus seeds and kept some of them stored in the freezer. The abacus dough came out all nice and right after the thawing process which is a very rare quality for any other types of dough. Perfect and nice!
- Yam: 500g, sliced
- Tapioca starch/flour: 300g
- Salt: 1.5 tsp
- Boiling water: 150ml – 180ml
- Cooking oil: 3 tbsp
- Shallots: 2 cloves, finely chopped
- Garlic: 2 cloves, finely chopped
- Minced pork: 250g
- Dried mushroom: 100g, thinly sliced
- Dried shrimp: 50g, blended
- Fish sauce: 1 tbsp
- Oyster sauce: 2 tbsp
- Shaoxing wine: 2 tbsp
- Ground white pepper: 1/2 tsp
- Spring onion (optional): 1 stalk, finely chopped (as garnish)
- Steam yam slices for about 15min till soft.
- Mash evenly with a fork while it is steaming hot.
- Combine hot mashed yam with tapioca flour and salt.
- Gradually add in 150 – 180ml of boiling water and knead till a soft and smooth dough forms.
- Roll into a long dough measuring about 2cm in width. Slice into 1cm slices.
- Roll each 1cm slice into a ball. Then use your thumb to depress a hole in the center of each ball to make an abacus.
- Repeat for the rest of the dough.
- Cook abacus seeds in boiling water. Continue stirring to prevent seeds from sticking to each other.
- When the seeds float to the top of the water, scoop them out and place into chilled water. This helps to keep them soft and chewy.
- Heat oil in wok. Fry shallots and garlic till fragrant.
- Stir in pork and break it up to mix evenly.
- Stir in dried mushrooms and dried shrimps.
- Stir in abacus seeds. Add fish sauce, oyster sauce, shaoxing wine and white pepper.
- Stir evenly to combine.
- Scoop into serving bowl. Garnish with spring onion to serve.
- A very important thing to remember while kneading the dough is that you will have to knead it while the yam is hot! The steam helps to mash the yam slices more effectively and helps in the kneading of the dough to ensure it becomes smooth and soft. Never ever wait for it to cool down. If required, you can wear a plastic glove while kneading the dough.
- These yam balls really hold their shape very well after they are kneaded into their forms, so you don’t have to worry at all about them sticking together when you place them together on a plate or in a bowl. It’s quite amazing.
- Also, because they have to be boiled first before they are stir-fried, it doesn’t matter if you knead them into oval shapes or slightly weird round shapes with cracks in the dough. Cooking them in boiling water allows all scars to be healed such that all of them would turn out looking like perfect abacus seeds after that! I made the abacus seeds the night before and chilled them in the fridge so that I could easily take them out to stir-fry the next day.
About 100 abacus seeds – I divided it into two portions for cooking, each portion of about 50 seeds serves about 5 – 6 persons as a side dish.