With Chinese New Year around the corner, feasting season is creeping in on us once more. Food made with love is most often food made with patience. One such food is Tang Yuan (or Tong Yuan). This carefully-handmade Chinese dessert signifies unity and happiness, and are enjoyed on the last day of Chinese New Year, the Winter Solstice, and other occasions involving family reunion. My sister, Melanie of Borneo Addict, is given credit for this recipe, which I have amended slightly to make vegan.
These sweet, succulent balls oozing with sesame goodness make for an exciting festive project, should you be up to the task. I use the word task, because I didn’t know how much work was involved until I started making it. On top of that, upon Melanie’s suggestion that came with a warning, I decided to make my own natural colouring for the balls too. Sucker for punishment, I know.
I don’t wish to present a recipe that is any more longer or complicated than it already is, so the recipe below is only for plain, white-coloured balls.
Extra instructions for coloured balls:
- Be prepared to add at least another 30 minutes to the prep time.
- The green is extracted from pandan leaves. I left them overnight in the freezer and blended with a quarter cup of water, then strained the pulp to leave just the juice behind.
- The pink is extracted from fresh raw beetroot. I diced and blended a whole small beetroot with a quarter cup of water, then strained the pulp to leave the juice behind.
- The blue is extracted from dried butterfly pea flowers, which I got from Melanie (she sells these flowers too). I boil about 10 dried flowers in a quarter cup of water for a few minutes until the blue colour is extracted from the petals, and the flowers are removed.
- Then you split the glutinous rice dough into the number of colours you have, including one for plain white, and add a teaspoon of colour to each portion. When I wanted to achieve a deeper colour, I then accompanied every additional teaspoon of colouring with 1 1/2 teaspoons of glutinous rice flour, so as to maintain the consistency of the dough.
As for the sesame seeds, I’ve used the black variety, which is slightly more bitter than its white counterpart, but feel free to use white if it is preferred or easier to find. If you buy them raw, you can bring out the nuttiness by roasting them lightly in the wok on medium heat or in the oven before making in to a paste.
To make way for the filling, Melanie’s suggestion is to get a small amount of dough, dig a thumb into the middle to create a hollow, put the butter inside, then close it up. I tried this and failed, perhaps because the veganized version of the sesame butter has a different consistency. So I changed my method to just creating a mini pancake to fit into my palm, put a small amount of the sesame butter in the middle, then gathering the ends of the pancake together to enclose the butter. It didn’t seem like the neatest way, but it did the job! Feel free to experiment with any kind of method which works for you too. And practice makes perfect! Messy balls are still beautiful balls.
Be careful that the balls don’t stick together or to the plate they are resting in, once you are done making them. I found this out the hard way, and one or two of my balls broke as I tried to move them! You can prevent this by dusting them with a pinch of rice flour, as they wait to be dropped into the pot for cooking.
This recipe creates about 20-24 balls, depending on their size.
Combined with the warming fragrant ginger broth, you’re ready to serve up a lip-smacking labour of love that is worth coming together for.
Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls with Sesame Paste Filling)
A delightful highlight of coming together for a festive occasion, these chewy balls burst with the earthy flavour of sesame, complemented by the warmth of sweet ginger broth. This recipe is for uncoloured balls. For natural colouring, refer to the accompanying blogpost.
- BALL DOUGH:
- 1 cup of glutinous rice flour
- 1 tablespoon rice flour
- 1/2 cup water
- SESAME FILLING:
- 1/2 cup sesame (black or white)
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- GINGER SOUP:
- 1.25 litres water
- 2 inch stem of fresh ginger
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- Step 1 Blend together sesame filling ingredients. Set aside.
- Step 2 Massage dough ingredients together to form a smooth dough. It should have a balance of being moist enough to be soft and pliable and not crumble, but dry enough to not stick to the bowl or onto your fingers.
- Step 3 Take a piece of dough and roll into a ball about 3cm in diameter.
- Step 4 Flatten out into your palm, place about 1 1/2 teaspoon of sesame paste in the middle, and carefully bring the ends of the dough together at the top and seal to enclose the filling and form the ball again.
- Step 5 Halfway through the ball-making, start boiling the ginger soup ingredients in a pot. When it comes to a boil, bring it down to a simmer until all the balls are ready-made for cooking.
- Step 6 Once all the balls are made, bring the soup temperature up to medium heat and drop the balls gently into the pot. Once they float to the top, allow to cook for another 5 minutes.
- Step 7 Serve immediately in small soup bowls.