Improvised Sweet Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)


Zongzi, or sticky rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves and then steamed, are delicious but laborious to make.  However, I’ve found that red bean paste has such a strong flavor that it overwhelms any subtle bamboo leaf notes anyway, so you might as well make them in ramekins or small bowls.  The nicest part is that you can use ramekins with fun shapes – what better Valentine’s Day treat than a heart-shaped, red bean paste-filled dessert?

Cooking notes:

  • You can find everything in a Chinese supermarket.  The red bean paste will probably come in a can and sometimes misleadingly shows a picture of whole beans on the label.  Ask the cashier if you’re not sure.
  • I make my sticky rice in a Tatung rice cooker in which you put water in both an outer pot and an inner pot.  You can improvise this arrangement on the stove: Set a wire rack or an upside-down bowl in a large pot of water.  Place whatever ingredients you’re steaming in another bowl and set it on top of the rack or the upside-down bowl to keep it out of the water.  Cover pot with a lid and bring water to a boil.


Improvised Sweet Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

Yield: 4 servings

  • 3/4 cup (1 rice cooker cup) sticky rice, aka sweet rice or glutinous rice, although it has no gluten
  • 1 1/8 cup (1 1/2 rice cooker cups) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or a few pieces of candy crystal (optional)
  • 3/4 cup (1 rice cooker cup) red bean paste (or more, to taste)


  1. Rinse the sticky rice with cold water a couple times.
  2. Cook the sticky rice.
    • If using a Tatung rice cooker, place sticky rice, 1 1/2 rice cooker cups water, and sugar (if using) in the inner pot.  Place 2 rice cooker cups water in the outer pot and steam. It takes 45-50 minutes.
    • If cooking on a stove, steam ingredients for about 45 minutes, adding more water to the pot if necessary.
  3. Grease 4 (6-oz or 8-oz) ramekins.  Small bowls will also do in a pinch.  Make sure you do this thoroughly, or the zongzi won’t come out cleanly.
  4. When the rice is done, divide it into 4 equal amounts.  Pat about 2/3 of each amount into a layer on the bottom and sides of a ramekin.  I try to get the layer as thin as possible to maximize the red bean paste to rice ratio, but this is up to you.
  5. Spoon red bean paste into the center of the rice in each ramekin.
  6. Cover with remaining rice and pat smooth.
  7. Steam again.  You may have to do this in batches.
    • If using the rice cooker, use 1 rice cooker cup of water in the outer pot.  It takes about 30 minutes.
    • If cooking on a stove, place the ramekins on a plate, and then set the plate on the wire rack or upside-down bowl.  Steam for 30 minutes.
  8. Remove and cool on the counter just until the ramekins are cool enough to handle.
  9. Loosen the edges of the rice from the ramekins with a knife.  Place a serving plate over a ramekin and flip it over so the zongzi falls out.  Repeat for the others.  (Alternatively, you can just eat it directly from the ramekin.)
  10. Serve warm.
  11. If you make too many zongzi, you can cool them completely, wrap the ramekins in aluminum foil, and freeze them.  To reheat, you don’t even need to defrost them – just steam for about 45 minutes.

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