Recipe: Tang Yuan, Glutinous Sweet Rice Balls

Chinese New Year is winding down. In fact, this year, February 14 marks the last day of the 15-day festival. While the Western world celebrates Valentine's Day, the Chinese are saying goodbye to festivities with the Lantern Festival -- also known as yuanxiao jie 元宵节.

These sweet rice balls are the hallmark dessert of the New Year celebration, specifically the last night. They're the sugary equivalent of a dumpling, often infused with black sesame, red bean, or ground peanuts. It's an auspicious dessert because the round shape of the delicacy signifies unity within the family.

It's usually simply served the water it was boiled in, but can also be boiled in a sweetened syrup flavored with ginger, fermented sweet rice, or red bean.

Stuffed Red Bean Glutinous Rice Balls

Here's a recipe, adapted from Annie Lin from the Taiwanese American Professionals chapter in Los Angeles.

Makes 20

Pre-boiled tang yuan | Photo credit: Clarissa Wei

1 cup glutinous rice flour, plus more to dust
1/3 cup lukewarm water
Red bean paste (can be purchased at most Asian grocery stores)
Food coloring (optional)

In a mixing bowl, add 1/3 cup of lukewarm water to the glutinous rice flour, gently stirring with a spoon as you slowly pour in the water.

Gently knead the dough with to form a ball. If a dough ball does not easily form, add a teaspoon of water at a time and continue to knead until a dough ball forms and is the consistency of soft putty.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Pinch off a 1-inch round piece of dough and flatten into a disk with the palms of your hand and place the dough into the boiling water. Once the dough floats, remove it with a sieve.

Add the boiled dough to the rest of the dough, and knead until it becomes uniform in consistency. You can divide the dough and add a few drops of food coloring if you want colored glutinous rice balls.

Roll into a 1-inch thick log and break into equal pieces of the desired size.

Roll each piece of dough into a sphere with the palm of your hands. Press your thumb into the center of the dough to form a little nest. Place the red bean filling in the middle of the dough, gently draw the edges of the dough up around the ball, seal, and roll into a sphere. Place on a plate lightly dusted with glutinous rice flour, and cover with a clean kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out while you finish making the rest of the stuffed glutinous rice balls.

Place the rice balls in boiling water, gently stir, and wait for them to float to the surface. Lower the heat to a simmer and wait for the rice balls to slightly expand before gently scooping them out with a sieve and placing in the soup/liquid you will be serving them in. Feel free to add rock sugar, ginger, boiled red beans, or fermented sweet rice to the soup.

About the Author

I'm the Assistant Producer of New Media at KCET and a foodist with a knack for Chinese cuisine. Los Angeles native and avid night hiker.
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