Suan Pan Zi (算盘子)

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Sometimes, calculators just can't compare with abaci. Calculators aren't edible, nor do they bring you wealth and good luck . . . .

Of course, you can't eat an abacus either but you can make abacus beads, aka suan pan zi (算盘子). These little discs which look like their namesake are a delicious Hakka noodle that's served stir-fried or in a soup.

SPZ come with a feature that no calculator could ever have. If you eat suan pan zi during Chinese New Year, your abacus will be click-clacking non-stop in the new year, counting the amount of money you will have! Yup, hand on heart, that's absolutely true.

SPZ's magical power benefits not just mercenary adults. My Hakka sister-in-law's mother swears that kids who eat 算盘子 during Chinese New Year will turn into maths wizards overnight. Needless to say, my little nephew's maths exam scores have always been very impressive.

What are you waiting for? Go fire the maths tutor and make your kids a plateful of suan pan zi!

As far as noodles and pasta go, SPZ is pretty nutritious. The mashed yam has lots of vitamine B6, which helps lower the risk of heart disease. And lots of potassium which helps control blood pressure. And fibre! Who doesn't need more fibre?!

Chinese New Year feasting and drinking is all about auspiciousness, and suan pan zi fits the bill perfectly.

(Recipe for 2 persons)

450 g (purple) yam (aka taro, weigh after peeling), peeled and washed
100 g tapioca flour
1 tsp salt
3 Chinese dried mushrooms (15 g), washed and soaked till soft (30 minutes)
15 g dried prawns, washed and soaked in water till soft (20 minutes)
3 tsp oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
150 g minced pork
1 tsp light soya sauce for marinating minced pork
1 tsp sesame oil
3 tsp light soya sauce for seasoning Suan Pan Zi
1 tsp fish sauce
pinch of sugar
5 stalks garlic chives (or more if you like), washed and cut into 1-inch long pieces
ground white pepper, to taste

Cut yam into ½-cm thick slices and steam over high heat till soft, 10 minutes. Mash immediately. Add salt and tapioca flour. Mix well. As soon as mixture is cool enough to handle, knead till yam and flour are evenly mixed and not sticky. Divide into 2 pieces. Work on 1 piece whilst keeping the other covered. Pinch about 2 tsp dough and roll into a ball. Flatten slightly, then make a depression in the middle with your finger. Repeat . . . .

Cook SPZ in rapidly boiling water till floating. Remove with slotted spoon to cool water. Drain when cool. Toss with oil if not using immediately.

Marinate minced pork with light soya sauce and sesame oil for 15-20 minutes. Drain and squeeze dry mushrooms and dried prawns, setting aside drained liquid. Slice mushrooms thinly. Roughly chop dried prawns.

Heat oil in a wok till just smoking. Add dried prawns. Stir till heated through. Add mushrooms and garlic. Fry till garlic is lightly golden. Add pork and stir to break up the mince. Add SPZ. Stir till heated through. Add light soya sauce, fish sauce and sugar. Stir till absorbed. Add 2 tbsp liquid from soaking mushrooms and dried prawns. Stir-fry till sauce is reduced, but not too dry, and slightly sticky. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add garlic chives and dash of ground white pepper. Stir to mix. Turn off heat. Plate and serve.


M.Goh said...

This is does look like a traditional chinese calculator. I had this once in Medan, Indonesia and it is absolutely delicious. I haven't made one myself though.

KT said...

Hi M.Goh

Try it! It's quite easy but you must have good, starchy yam.

M. Goh said...

Hi KT,

I'm going to try to make this. One question, what kind of Yam do you use ? here in the state, they refer yam to sweet potato and use the two term interchangeably, I know you are not referring to sweet potato. Is it the purple yam ? Thanks.

KT said...

Hi M. Goh

Yes, it's purple yam or taro. Make sure you get a starchy one. The part near the skin or the bottom is usually less starchy. I pick these bits out (you can tell them apart 'cause they don't mash well) whilst mashing.

Have a taste after steaming the yam. If it's not starchy, do not proceed!

When you're handling raw yam, work quickly and wash your hands well after you're done. Otherwise, your hands might itch.

Steam yam in a perforated tray if possible so that water (released by the yam as it's cooked) can drain away. If you have to use a plate, cover it with foil so that water doesn't drip in.

Sorry I'm really long-winded!

M. Goh said...

Hi KT,

Thanks a bunch. Those are the tips I need. Glad to know all these before making them.

Will keep you posted how they turn out!;)

Mgoh said...

Hi KT,

It's me again. I'm not really sure what I did wrong, but my Suan Pan Zi are totally purple in color after cooking. LOL. Well, even the dough itself is purple in color. I'm pretty sure I got the measurement correct 450 g taro and 100 g tapioca starch.
And I noticed the dough is a bit dry on mine, so when I roll them into balls and flattened them, they tend to break. Anyway, the whole thing turn out to be like I put a purple dye on them lol!!! Yours look so great! mine wasn't even close to that ;b
I still haven't given up though. I'll try to make it again, just not sure what I did wrong.

KT said...

The amount of water in vegetables and fruits can vary quite a lot depending on the species, storage conditions and season. E.g. oranges, yes? Sorry I didn't point that out before! Even the moisture in flour can vary though not to the same extent as fruits, of course.

Actually, the cracks shouldn't affect the taste of the suan pan zi though they may not look nice. What was wrong with your suan pan zi other than the cracks? Texture? Taste?

The most important thing is, was the yam good? Did you taste some after steaming it? If it's starchy and has the fragrance of good yam, you should get good suan pan zi. Try adding less tapioca flour next time, just enough so that the dough is smooth and does not crack. This makes the dough more 'yammy' (which is good) but less chewy/springy. And if you need to rescue a dough that's too dry, add water one tablespoonful at a time, then knead till smooth again.

Purple is pretty funky! I had always thought bright purple yam ice-cream is due to artificial colouring. Good to know it might be natural.

Mgoh said...

I do agree, those can vary and not to mention the yams, very in size and age perhaps.

Well, I think after seeing the dough being purple and all, I got panic and adding more Tapioca starch, thinking I can "tone down" the "purplish" color. The texture of the Suan pan zi weren't that chewy/springy and's quite yammy actually. I probably should've taken photos and show you how funky they look haha! you'll probably get a good laugh from it.

I will try again and we shall see how things go this time around.

KT said...

Hmm, yammy but not nice. Then it's the stir fry that went wrong. The wok/pan must be stonking hot, and ingredients must be of good quality and quantity. Before adding suan pan zi to the pan, the ingredients must be stir fried till they smell GOOD. It's this aroma that infuses and flavours the suan pan zi. If it doesn't smell good, it won't taste good.

When adding light soya sauce and fish sauce, the pan/wok must be hot. Drizzle a bit of the sauces on the sides of the pan/wok. It burns slightly (hopefully not too much!) and caramelizes, which makes it more aromatic. Stir and gently scrape off the caramelized bits so that they're well mixed with the other ingredients.

If you like, you can add a bit of chicken powder or oyster sauce, which improves the umaminess. Remember to use less light soya sauce and fish sauce if you do.

Don't give up!

Mgoh said...

well, i didn't actually make it that far to the stir-fry part yet. I just boiled the suan pan zi in boiling water, toss them in oil like you mentioned. The color didn't look right for me to proceed further. but yes..I'll try again soon...haven't given up lol!

Mgoh said...

So, I did try to make it again few days ago. Despite of the color, everything else is good. Love how starchy it is. I actually use a bit less tapioca starch this time. So I took the photo of it before I boiled the suan pan zi, just to show you how funky the color is lol! I think it's the type of yam here is somehow different with the one we have in asia ? I'm not sure.

Then when I boiled the suan pan zi in the hot boiling water and they floated to the top, I dished them out and they literally turned into mush or should I say purple mud *__* I thought I got the right texture and everything before cooking them. Oh well, I think it's the type of yam we got here, i can't think of any other reason. I don't know if it will work if I use other type of yams.

KT said...

Oh boy, your suan pan zi look . . . radioactive!

Mgoh said...

LOL! isn't it funky? :) I'm amazed by how purple it got.

M Goh said...

I just made it again with major modification though, but they are still purple in color! ha!
I link back to your site hope you don't mind.
I'm going to get it right one of these days! lol!

KT said...

If the colour is natural, I wouldn't be bothered. :D

WD said...

Hi KT. For a chewier yam abacus, do i use more tapioca flour? Mine turns out pretty powdery(but still edible) and i suspect it is due to using too much yam.

kt said...

Yes, WD. Cheers.

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