Glutinous rice ball, also known as 湯圓 (tang1yuan2), is a delicious soft mochi type of dessert (or savory meal) originated in China. This recipe takes you back to the basics, starting from scratch with the most basic ingredient- glutinous rice, also called sticky rice. 湯圓(Tangyuan) is often festive, eaten during winter solstice and Yuan Xiao Festival(15th day of Chinese new year).
Sometimes these tasty balls are stuffed with sweet or savory filling oozing out the soft white skin. Usually served hot in a soup, tang yuan tastes best hot since if the tang yuan is made with pure rice, it gets hard once it gets cold.
This is the base recipe for the ball, using the most basic ingredient- glutinous rice. There are two main kinds of glutinous rice: short grain and long grain. The short grain gives a slightly chewier and softer texture and the long grain gives a harder texture. Feel free to experiment with the proportion. People usually use mostly short grain glutinous rice for the balls but I’ve successfully made mine with long grain glutinous rice and it turned out to be soft and tasty. Hardened when cold but delicious hot. I’ve heard great things about half and half too, it’s not as hard once the balls cooled down and has a slightly chewier texture.
It takes longer to make your own glutinous balls from scratch, so why do it? Honestly, it’s not harder to make these from scratch. It may take longer, but mostly passive time. The flavor and texture are both better, I love a rice ball with actual rice flavor, the ones made from rice flour just isn’t enough. Other than that, I love playing with the proportion of mixing my own long grain and short grain to get the exact texture I like; knowing exactly what goes into what I eat and rice flour here is not clearly labeled and not easily accessible. Making food from scratch makes you appreciate what you’re eating and tastes so much better.
I have to say, this is the first time that I’ve made these glutinous rice balls from absolute scratch and found it to be really easy! I don’t understand why most people don’t do this anymore. This is also the first time that I made pink ones without food dye (because I’m too lazy to buy some and I really don’t use them often). I used 1 tsp of juice from my pickled beets to create the pink and I think they are beautiful! The reason why there are pink balls is because RED is a color for happiness and luck in Chinese culture, and glutinous rice balls are often a festive food.
Other natural coloring ideas: Adding pumpkin or sweet potatoes to make it yellow, macha to make them green and pea flowers to make them blue.
My one tool that made the job easier is my trusty Vita Mix. Sure it’s expensive but it is worth it and they last a lifetime, I’ve finally stopped buying new blenders every time one break. It blends the rice into a fine, even powder and produces the soft, tender, decadent rice balls when cooked. After the rice is blended, use a cheesecloth or in my case, I used a laundry bag to drain the rice milk. I tied the bag up, put it on top of a rack and loaded a plate and something very heavy on top. My mortar was heavy enough to do the trick. Then all you need to do is leave it for another 8 hours, flipping it halfway and let the water drain out leaving the “rice cake”.
After the “rice cake” is made, break it up into a few small pieces and boil a few pieces, about 1/5 of the portion in a pot until they float to the top and crumble up the rest. I find that it would be easier if you break up the 1/5 into smaller pieces before boiling. It helps when mixing it back together with the crumbled raw pieces to create a dough. After the dough is made, shape them into little balls and back in the boiling pot until they float again.
Serve the glutinous rice balls with a simple ginger and brown sugar syrup, a tasty and filling red bean soup, black sesame paste or try it with a savory broth.
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Glutinous Rice Balls
- 1-1/2 C Glutinous Rice Long grain or short grain, or a mix of both
- Corn Starch
- 6 C Water
- 6 TBsp Brown Sugar
- 1 Inch Ginger Thinly Sliced
Glutinous Rice Balls
- Cover 1-1/2C Glutinous Rice with water and soak over night
- Blend the soaked rice with a blender for about 3 minutes, or until there are no big grains left. It doesn't really matter how much water you add to blend the rice since it will be drained later, as long as it is easy to blend.
- After the rice is blended, use a cheese cloth or in my case I used a laundry bag to drain the rice milk.
- Tie the bag up, put it on top of a rack and loaded a plate and something very heavy on top. Leave draining over night or for 8 hours, flipping over half way. Creating a "rice cake"
- Remove the "rice cake" from the bag and break into small pieces in a mixing bowl.
- While parts of the rice cake is being boiled, crumble up the rest of the raw rice cake.
- Strain the cooked rice cake from the pot and add them back to the crumbled raw pieces.
- Start working it all into a dough.
- After the dough is made, separate 1/3 of the dough and add 1Tsp of beet juice or color of your choice to make a colored dough.
- Form the dough into little balls with your palm. Coating them with corn starch to prevent sticking to each other.
- Cook immediately or freeze. Cooking the glutinous rice balls: Bring a pot of water to boil, add the balls and cook until they float to top, strain the balls into a bowl and add syrup or soup of your choice.
- Bring 6C water, 6TBsp Brown sugar, 1" thinly sliced ginger to a boil in a pot. Serve with cooked glutinous rice balls.
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