Saturday 20 December 2014

Winter Solstice Festival 冬至

As a Christian, Christmas is huge. Christmas is where we celebrate the birth of our beloved Jesus Christ, our Lord God and our Saviour. Even in a muslim country like Malaysia, Christmas is celebrated with much splendour and merryment amongst the non-muslims on every 25th of the year. Unbeknownst to many, there is another day of celebration, a few days prior, that is also of much importance to the Chinese....

The Winter Solstice Festival (Dongzhi)

Winter solstice festival or dongzhi is a traditional Chinese festival. It is celebrated every 21st, 22nd, and occasionally, 23rd of December. This festival supposedly celebrate the end of spring and the arrival of winter. My mom told me that this festival is bigger and more important than Chinese New Year itself. Coming from a working class family and being English educated, I did not know the importance of this day until way later when I have my dessert business. And I am glad that I did.

On this day, the Chinese would have ceremonies to pay respects to their ancestors and come together to dine. Essentially, families would eat glutinous rice balls or tang yuan (汤圆cooked in sweet ginger syrup. The roundish shape of the tang yuan symbolises family reunion or the wholeness of the family. It is also said that upon eating the tang yuan, you would be a year older. On this day, no matter how busy you are, do make an effort to go home for dinner. Or least, make a phone call back home. It means that much, really!

Glutinous Rice Balls (Tang yuan)

There are many recipes for this simple ball. Some mix glutinous rice with rice flour, some cook a roux before mixing flour, some even add oil to make the ball smoother. For the sake of simplicity, plain glutinous flour would suffice. It would give you a much chewy (QQ) and sticky texture. If you do not like it to be so chewy, replace 1/4 of the flour with rice flour.

Tang yuan is eaten on special occasions like this one. However, tang yuan is so versatile and delicious you can now get it all year around, commercialised, with many variations. Traditional tang yuan is served in many colours accompanied by sweet ginger soup. Nowadays you get tang yuan in various fillings (my favourite being sesame), and different types of soup such as red beans and brown sugar. Oh! Let's not forget also the Hakka's salty version!

This year I am going to introduce a simple one - pumpkin dough. Pumpkin is cheap and found in abundance this time of the year. Why not make full use of this nutritious goodness?

The Dough

1/4 cup of pumpkin puree
120 ml water
80 g rice flour

1. Steam pumpkin until cooked. Blitz or mash it into puree. I actually ran the puree through a sieve to make it smoother. If you are a bit lazy and do not mind the occasional lump, just leave it.

2. Mix puree, glutinous rice flour, and water together until it forms a dough. The dough should be soft but does not have residue stuck on your fingers when you press it between your finger and thumb.

3. Pinch a small piece of dough and roll it into a ball. Repeat until all the dough are formed into balls.

4. Add the tang yuan into a pot of boiling water and boil until the tang yuan floats. Transfer tang yuan to a bowl of cold water. This is to arrest further cooking so that the tang yuan maintain its QQ texture. Throw cooled balls into boiling ginger syrup and serve.

Note: The balls and soup are normally cooked separately so that the syrup maintains is clear appearance without the stickiness and residue from boiling the balls.

The Sweet Ginger Soup

150 g rock sugar
2.5 liter water
20 gm ginger (one thumb)
3 pandan/screwpine leaves, knotted

Put ginger, rock sugar and pandan leaves into water and bring to boil. Reduce fire to simmer for 15 mins until all flavour comes out. This soup has just enough mild gingery flavour to complement the tang yuan. Add more ginger if you like a stronger and bitter flavour.

The Filling

There are various fillings that you can put into your tang yuan. In this case, I used red beans paste because I have some left. Fillings nowadays can be store-bought making life so much easier. If you want something easy, just grind some roasted peanut and add granulated sugar to taste. Add a few drops of water just enough for the peanuts to form balls. There, you have your fast and easy filling!

Cooking Instruction
1. Take a small piece of dough and flatten it to a disk. Place your filling in the middle and wrap the dough around the filling. (The challenge is to get a correct balance of filling and dough. If your dough is too thick, the tang yuan would taste bland and not good. If you have your dough wrapped too thin, the skin will break when cooking the tang yuan).

2, Drop the balls into boiling water and reduce fire to medium heat. Once the balls float, wait for 30 seconds and scoop it into cold water. Transfer to ginger syrup and serve hot.

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