Yesterday 22nd December was what we Chinese call 冬 至which is translated in Englih as Winter Solstice. On this day in Northern hemisphere is the shortest day and longest night but we over in the Southern hemisphere experience the longest day and the shortest night of the year instead. Chinese believe after today the day will get longer and longer and this generates"Yang qi" a.ka. Positive forces so it should be celebrated. Hence, to some Chinese especially those in the mainland China, celebration for this day is even more important than the Chinese New Year (冬至大过年). If you are keen to find out more on the history, I will leave it to the experts to do the explanation, here's the link.
Frankly I didn't understand the reason of celebration until I wrote this post. What in my memory since I was a small kid was on this day my mum would make Tang Yuan (glutinous dumplings) and asked us to eat. She said once we ate the Tang Yuan then we would get older by a year. I couldn't believe I did buy her saying when I was small and ate as many as I could so I could grow up faster. But I doubt I would want to eat any now if the saying is true! J
|Tang Yuan (Sweet Glutinous dumplings) 汤圆|
The first year when we were married, we did not go back to home town to celebrate with our parents. Hence, he suggested making Tang Yuan on our own as he is a Tang Yuan fan. At that time I had little knowledge about cooking. I wasn't sure what flour to use for the Tang Yuan and suggested to ask mother-in-law for advice, but JS said he knew how to make it. I still could recall we spent whole night kneading the dough, added coloring to the dough and kneaded into many nice colorful round balls, but when we boiled them, the rice balls could not float even after being boiled for a long time (cooked Tang Yuan would float). In the end we realized we had produced a whole pot of bouncy rice balls instead of sticky chewy Tang Yuan, but why?
Then we decided to give my mother-in-law a call to find out why. Only then we realized we had used the wrong flour to make Tang Yuan! We had used rice flour instead of glutinous flour! This is the biggest joke that I always tease him all the time. How bouncy the rice balls we had you might ask? If you run out of ping pong balls then you can try to make this as replacement J
Well, this time with Auntie Ah Lan around, we won't end up with bouncy rice balls, in fact we get to enjoy the real authentic Malaysian style Tang Yuan, nice round glutinous dumplings in sweet rock sugar soup. This recipe that I'm sharing is without filling, which is very basic and can be prepared anytime of the year not necessarily on winter solstice.
Actually to the Chinese, Tang Yuan with its round shape symbolizes reunion which is why it is also one of the main desserts served during Chinese New Year when all family members get together in a family reunion. Besides, it is also served on wedding day. The groom and bride customarily must feed each other Tang Yuan and they are not allowed to chew the dumplings, instead they are asked to shallow whole so the rice balls would remain intact to symbolize togetherness.
For firmer and chewy texture of Tang Yuan, best knead the Tang Yuan in advance and left overnight to rest.
Making Tang Yuan is also a great bonding time, the kids especially love the idea of kneading the rice dough because kneading the glutinous rice dough is similar to play-doh, and you can see how Ming Ray enjoyed his Tang Yuan play-doh with his auntie.
TANG YUAN (SWEET GLUTINOUS DUMPLINGS )
450g Glutinous rice flour
3 tsp caster sugar
Food coloring - Red and Green (optional)
Pandan/Screw pine leaves
1. Mix glutinous rice flour with sugar in a large bowl.
2. Slowly add in warm water, stir to form soft dough that does not stick to your hands.
3. To have colourful Tang Yuan, split the dough into 3 portions and add a few drops of food colouring to each portion.
3. Knead the dough to until food colouring is evenly blended throughout the dough.
4. Shape the dough into small round balls. For firmer and chewy texture, best to leave overnight at room temperature.
5 Bring a pot of water to boiling; drop dumplings into the pot by batches. Once boiling reduces the heat to simmer and cook until dumplings float to the surface of the water.
6. If the dumplings soup becomes starchy, add in fresh water and cook or change water, else the dumplings will not cooked easily.
7. Prepare another pot of water, add in screw pine leaves and rock sugar and bring to boil and set aside.
8. Ladle cooked Tang Yuan and transfer into the sweet soup. The main reason of boiling Tang Yuan in a separate pot is to avoid cloudy sweet broth.
9. Alternatively you can use ready-made soya milk to be your sweet broth.