22nd is on next Monday 21st Sunday. It is one of the important Chinese culture to celebrate Winter Solstice or Dong Zhi. It is also known as Chinese Christmas. Chinese families, irrespective of their faiths can sit down and make tang yuen and have a family dinner.
Eventhough I am a Christian, I still practice this Chinese tradition because every child can benefit from playing with the coloured rice ball dough. If you have children who are more than five years old, do enjoy this fun activity.
Here is how to make tang yuen.
Making the tang yuan balls
Ingredients – 300 grams glutinous rice flour mix with 2 tablespoon of sugar
1/2 cup of boiling water
1 cup of room temperature water
1) Buy a packet of glutinous rice flour. It is call tepung pulut. Make sure you get the right one as there are two types of rice flour.
2) Use about 300 grams (a packet is normally 500 grams but that will yield too much tang yuen) of flour.
3) Take 1/3 of the flour and put in a big bowl. Boil some hot water till boiling hot. Slowly pour some of the water to the flour to ‘cook’ it. You want a messy ball of dough so add just enough.
4) Using a wooden spoon, mix the dough till smooth. Slowly add the 2/3 of the flour and keep adding some water till you get a dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. Remember that there is no firm and fast rule on the quantity of flour versus water. Just add flour or water to get the right consistency.
Once the dough is pliable, separate them into small portions if you wish to add food colourings.
Now, use some flour to flour a flat plate. You can now start rolling the dough into tiny balls. To get consistent sizes, I normally roll the dough into a long strand like a snake. Then, I pinch off into smaller bits and let my children roll them into balls.
In Penang, our tang yuan is plain rice balls as most of us follow the traditional Hokkien/Nyonya style. However, some folks will use the dough and add some ground peanuts with sugar or red bean paste as fillings.
BOILING THE RICE BALLS
Boil a large pot of water, drop in the balls. Once they float, they are cooked. Prepare a big bowl of room temperature water that has been boiled. Scoop the tang yuan from the pot and put them in the bowl of water. You must use boiled water to avoid contamination.
FOR THE SYRUP
You can use any kind of syrup. Traditionally, we use only screwpine leaves (pandan) and rock sugar, making a clear, sweet soup. The coloured balls look beautiful in this clear, sugar syrup. Add enough water to get the sweetness you like.
For taste, we also use brown sugar with a piece of bruised ginger and pandan leaves. Add enough water to get a sweet syrup.
SECRET TO GETTING SOFT RICE BALLS.
My brother-in-law watched some Hong Kong cook show and he learned the step of getting soft rice balls. You see, normally, if you store the rice balls in the fridge, it will become hardened. But if you use the 1/3 flour with boiling water as mentioned above, the rice balls remain soft. This way, you can store the rice balls soaking in syrup in the fridge overnight.
Here’s a video taken two years ago showing the fun my kids have in rolling the rice balls. See? It is so easy so there is no reason not to adopt this practice of rolling rice balls.
Normally, we cannot finish the rice balls on December 21st and by Christmas, we still have leftover rice balls. So it is part of the Christmas dessert my sister served last year.
Dong Zhi is a very beautiful tradition where family members get together to have a meal. The roundness of the rice balls signifies a wholesome, complete family.