Tangyuan (汤圆), or glutinous rice ball, is a type of dessert served during many auspicious occasions celebrated by the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and Vietnamese: the winter solstice (冬至) when daylight is the shortest (i.e. daylight will start to get longer, which means winter is coming to an end); the Yuanxiao Festival (元宵节) to celebrate the first new moon after the Chinese Lunar New Year; other occasions which call for festive celebrations – weddings, birthdays, anniversaries etc. In fact, the word ‘汤圆’ (tangyuan) is a homophone for ‘团圆’, which means reunion and togetherness. This symbolism is further illustrated by the roundness of the balls and the sweetness of the broth. Hence the rounder the balls are the better.
The evolution of the glutinous rice ball has come a long way, from plain white-coloured balls without filling to multi-coloured ones containing all sorts of oozing delights. In my first attempt to make tangyuan for the winter solstice, I took the easy way out and used the off-the-shelf ready-made sesame paste to get out of the hassle of making it myself. This paste is definitely not as tasty and aromatic as those that used roasted ground sesame seeds or peanuts, but it is at least a minimal attempt on my part to celebrate the coming of longer, sunnier, chirpier and hopefully better days ahead.
- Glutinous rice flour: 400g
- Water: 300ml
- Food colouring (red/yellow/green): 1/2 tsp per portion of dough
- Paste (sesame/red bean): 500g, rolled into small-sized balls
- Water: 10 cups
- Rock sugar: 1 1/2 cups
- Old ginger: 6 slices
- Pandan leaves: 1 stalk, knotted and lightly crushed
- Sweetened ground peanut (optional): to serve
- Mix flour with water. Knead to form a semi-hard dough.
- Divide the dough into as many portions as the number of colours you would like the tangyuan to have. Add 1/2 tsp food colouring into each portion.
- Knead till dough is evenly coloured. Do not add colouring if you would like the balls to remain white.
- For the small tangyuan without filling, pluck about 1 thumb-sized portion of dough to roll into a ball.
- For the large tangyuan with filling, roll the same amount of dough into a ball and flatten it. Place 1 ball of paste in the center of the dough. Wrap the dough around the paste and roll into a large ball.
- In the meantime, boil water with ginger, sugar and pandan leaves.
- Once water has boiled, add in the tangyuan. Leave to cook for 5 min.
- Once the balls float up, leave them to cook for another 1 min before removing from heat.
- Serve hot with broth. Alternatively, roll the large balls in sweetened ground peanut to serve.
- It is not necessary to add too much colouring to the glutinous rice flour dough since the colour of the tangyuan will turn darker after they are boiled.
- Usually, I would keep to the original white colour of the dough to make the larger tangyuan with filling since I like to eat them covered in ground peanut powder.
- Keep the rest of the tangyuan frozen if you are not consuming them. The frozen balls can be placed immediately into boiling stock and cooked for 5 min more before serving.
Makes about 90 small balls or 40 large ones with filling