Sweet Lotus Root and Sticky Rice Congee

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This a simplified version of a Chinese dessert called tang lian’ou, in which sticky rice is stuffed into the holes of a whole lotus root, and then the entire assemblage is boiled in sugar water, then sliced.  You can achieve the same basic effect with a sweet congee, with the added flavor of dates.

 

Sweet Lotus Root and Sticky Rice Congee
Family recipe

Yield: 8 servings

  • 1 lb lotus root
  • 3/4 cup sticky rice
  • 100 g rock sugar OR 1:1 mix of white and brown sugar
  • 5-10 dried dates

 

  1. Place sticky rice in a bowl, fill bowl nearly to top with water, and soak for 2 hours.
  2. Peel lotus root and cut into 1/4-inch slices.
  3. Cut dried dates in half with scissors, making sure to avoid the pit.  If you want, you can cut out the pit.  Or you can just chew carefully.
  4. Drain sticky rice and place in large pot.  Add lotus root slices, sugar, and dried dates into pot.
  5. Pour in enough water to cover all the ingredients.
  6. Bring to a boil.
  7. Simmer, covered, and stir occasionally, until the lotus root slices and sticky rice reach desired softness.  (I simmered the congee for 1 hour.)
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Improvised Sweet Zongzi (Sticky Rice Dumplings)

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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.

Eight Treasure Rice (Ba Bao Fan)

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In honor of Chinese New Year, here is the recipe for Eight Treasure Rice.  Ba Bao Fan, as it is called in Chinese, is  a popular dessert made with sticky rice, red bean paste, and enough types of dried or candied fruits to bring the ingredients to eight.  Whether or not you count the sticky rice as one of the “treasures” is up to you, and of course, no one says that you need to include exactly eight ingredients!

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.
  • Some common toppings include dried dates, guiyuan (dried longan), candied lotus seeds (which you can buy around Chinese New Year), dried lychees, dried loquat, and red and green candied fruit that you put in fruitcake.
  • 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.

 

Eight Treasure Rice (Ba Bao Fan)

Yield: 8 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)
  • a handful of your favorite toppings (see above for suggestions)
  • 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. While rice is cooking, soak dates in a little water to soften them.  Cut them into strips, removing the pits.
  4. You can stir-fry the red bean paste briefly, but I usually skip this step.
  5. Grease a domed, medium bowl and arrange the dried and candied fruits on the bottom.
  6. When the rice is done, pat about 2/3 of it into a layer on the bottom and sides of the bowl.
  7. Spoon red bean paste into the center of the rice.
  8. Cover with remaining rice and pat smooth.
  9. Steam again.
    • 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, steam for 30 minutes.
  10. When the bowl is cool enough to handle, loosen the edges of the rice from the bowl with a knife.  Place a serving plate over the bowl and flip them over so the Eight Treasure Rice falls out.
  11. Serve warm.