Christmas has become the second biggest festival in Singapore, next to Chinese New Year. It's very commercialized but the loss of spirituality doesn't bother me. I just join in the festive fun and food orgy. Party spirit in place of religious spirit, sort of. It's end of the year, work slows down, kids are on school holidays, and everyone's in a partying mood. Any excuse to take a break and relax is good!
In the midst of the Christmas frenzy, I almost forgot the Chinese Winter Solstice Festival (冬至 or 冬节), which falls on 23 December. I remembered only a few days ago when I saw packs of glutinous rice flour prominently displayed at the supermarket.
Of course! Time for tangyuan!
These little chewy tangyuan (湯圓) with sweet, and sometimes savory, fillings are traditionally eaten during 冬至 to symbolize reunion and celebrate the longest night of the the year. In the old days, it was a festival almost as important as the Chinese New Year. It was called "the little new year", and everyone was a year older after the festival because the year was considered over and done with.
In Singapore, the Winter Solstice Festival is now just another day for most people. But it's not totally forgotten. I went to the market today to get some pandan leaves for making glutinous rice dumplings. And they were sold out at four vegetable stalls. Found some only at the fifth one I went to. Judging from the demand for pandan leaves, I guess the festival is alive and kicking.
By the way, pandan leaves with glutinous rice dumplings is a Singaporean thing. The people in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong may find it quite novel!
Today, I rolled up my sleeves and made my own glutinous rice balls. The filling wasn't the usual red bean or sesame paste but a mix of seven ingredients: salted egg yolks, candied winter melon, shredded coconut, ground peanuts, butter, sugar and white sesame seeds. It was a bit like mooncakes with salted egg yolks, a brilliant recipe from Jacky Yu of Xi Yan. I didn't make the dumpling dough his way, though. I preferred the Hakka method. It was a bit more work than normal, mixing cooked and raw dough. But the results were totally worth the extra effort. The rice balls were very chewy and not a single one burst, no matter how hard they were boiled.
I did my part to keep a Chinese tradition alive.
|SWEET GLUTINOUS RICE BALLS (湯圓)|
(Makes 32 pieces)
Filling (Source: Xi Yan Cuisine, Jacky Yu)
4-5 salted duck egg yolks, cooked and mashed while hot
50 g butter, melted
75 g candied winter melon, finely minced
2 tbsp skinless peanuts, roasted and ground
2 tbsp toasted white sesame seeds
2 tbsp dessicated coconut (unsweetened), toasted till fragrant
2 tbsps sugar (or to taste)
300 g glutinous rice flour
850 ml water
10 slices ginger (about 50 g)
8 pandan leaves, knotted in two bundles
brown rock sugar to taste (about 75 g or 6 tbsp)
Mix ingredients for filling evenly. Make into 32 little balls, about 1 tsp each. Place in freezer till frozen.
Add 150 ml warm water to glutinous rice flour. Mix thoroughly. Remove 60 g dough, flatten and tear into 3 pieces. Cook in boiling water till floating, about 1 minute. Remove and let excess water drip off. Add to raw dough. Knead till evenly mixed whilst cooked dough is still hot, gradually adding about 2 tbsp warm water for dough to just come together and leave bowl and hands clean.
Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a log shape, then cut into 16 pieces. Place damp towel over dough you're not working with. Roll each piece into a ball. Flatten with palms. Press into a circle about 5 cm (2 inches) wide. Run fingers round edges to make them thinner than the middle. Place filling in the middle. Seal and roll into a ball again, making sure dough wraps filling tightly. Repeat . . . .
Bring ingredients for soup to a boil. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, covered. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add dumplings and cook till floating. If dumplings are chilled, simmer gently for another minute after they start floating; if frozen, another 2-3 minutes. Serve hot.