Recipe: chinese eight treasure rice pudding
I really loved reading about your valentines. There were lots of husbands, some wives, partners, lots of moms, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, children, pets, friends. It’s incredibly gratifying to see all of this love and appreciation for the special people in our lives. So thank you for sharing with me and with everyone else. Now on to the winners! Jeremy picked our winners at random, but his method was a little more cerebral than Kaweah’s selection style. I’ll let him describe it for you:
Two winners were selected using the least significant digits of the coordinates of water discovered in the Antennae Galaxies (Brogan, Johnson, & Darling 2010). The water seems to mark the birthplace of massive clusters of new stars created by the collision of two galaxies. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, and our nearest large neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy, will likely experience a similar fate in several billion years.
the antennae galaxies (image by the hubble space telescope)
The winners are commenters #97 (Sheryl) and #335 (Megan F.)! Congratulations ladies! I’ll be in touch with you via email to get the shipping addresses of your intended recipients. And a huge thank you for all of your enthusiastic entries. I love you guys! Even if you didn’t win, I highly recommend these chocolate truffles – they are beyond exquisite.
Sunday, February 10th is the new moon and the Lunar New Year or Chinese New Year. I can close my eyes and recall vividly the sounds, sights, feelings, and smells of the kitchen where my parents and grandmother sat together to make dumplings on Chinese New Year’s Eve. Other special dishes were cooking on the stove, plastering steam on the windows and filling the house with aromas of the feast to come. I especially enjoyed running around the next morning and wishing everyone gong xi fa tsai (wish happiness and make money) or just gong xi gong xi (congratulations). Very few of my friends celebrated or were aware of Chinese New Year and so in many ways, I felt it was my family’s personal holiday.
When I went away to college, I was surprised to see Chinese New Year is indeed a big deal to A LOT of people in Southern California as well as some of the student body at Caltech. In my junior year, I called Grandma and asked her how to make Chinese dumplings and potstickers. The new year was approaching and I was feeling a little homesick. I began to pay more attention to our family traditions (mostly food) and fed them to Jeremy and friends throughout the years.
My sister didn’t share my interest in the lunar new year traditions until she had her son. After he was born, Kris suddenly became quite proficient at spoken Mandarin, began to read a little Chinese, and spoke Chinese with my nephew. It delighted my parents, my aunts, my grandma, family friends… And it melted my heart every time he called me A-yi (auntie). Without fail, my workaholic sister would call me up on Chinese New Year’s Eve every year to consult on what she needed to purchase or prepare for dinner. Dumplings? Noodles? How about a stir-fry? Don’t forget something sweet for the next morning. You see, you don’t eat just any Chinese food for Chinese New Year because everything has meaning for luck, prosperity, a promotion, good health, happiness, abundance, family, wealth.
The last time I saw Kris was over Chinese New Year. I had guilted her into flying out to California to meet me at Grandma’s place for a quick weekend trip. She was pregnant with her little girl and I almost felt bad about making her travel, but I knew the chances of seeing her and Grandma together decreased with every day she became more pregnant. Grandma made us sweet soup, took us to a New Year’s party (it’s not what you think – everyone there was Chinese, over 70, hard of hearing, and tone-deaf, but it was very entertaining), ordered our favorite dishes, and laughed at our dumb jokes.
I look back on that Chinese New Year with deep longing because both my sister and grandma have since passed on.
Chinese New Year is a time of celebration, but it is also a time of remembrance. I was only familiar with the celebratory side of things as a child. Now, I understand that we honor our ancestors and loved ones who are no longer with us and we embrace the loved ones we still have. For all of the rushing around to gather ingredients and make the right dishes to ensure good things in the new year, there can be a pang of sadness, sometimes a flood of unexpected tears, and a quiet heartache. Sure, we focus on the foods during this holiday, but really – the food is about family. Chinese New Year is all about family.
Food, family – they are inextricable.
A popular traditional dessert served at Chinese New Year dinners or other special occasions is Chinese eight treasure rice pudding. Now before you get excited about rice pudding, it’s not THAT kind of rice pudding. It’s a combination of sweet rice, also called sticky rice or glutinous rice (it contains no gluten), sweet red bean paste, dried fruits, and a sweet syrup. And there should be eight kinds of fruit because eight is a lucky number. You don’t HAVE to have eight, but if you choose to make a lucky dessert versus regular dessert, why not go for the lucky dessert?
sticky rice, sweet red bean paste, sugar, cornstarch, shortening or lard, lemon juice, dried or candied fruits
glutinous, sticky, or sweet rice – (glutinous rice has no gluten)
mango, dates, lotus seeds, maraschino cherries, goosberries, buddha’s hand citron, kumquats, apricots
Typical fruits include dried dates, candied cherries, lotus seeds, dried raisins… but you just use what you like or what you have available. I went to the big Asian market to hunt down candied lotus seeds, candied gooseberries, and candied kumquats. The rest of the items I got at the western supermarket or had made (like the candied Buddha’s hand citron). You can also use candied ginger, dried papaya, dried pineapple, winter melon candy (it’s a Chinese thing – it’s green and typically comes in strips), candied orange peel, dried cranberries, raisins. Endless possibilities.
slice up the fruits
arrange the fruit in a nice pattern
The point is to make a pretty floral-esque pattern with the fruits. Do this by arranging the inverted fruits on the inside of a bowl. I’ve seen some recipes recommend that you grease the inside of the bowl, perhaps for ease of release. I didn’t bother with that. And the recipe I list here calls for lard or shortening. I really dislike shortening, but couldn’t find lard. You don’t want to use butter as it imparts the wrong kind of flavor, so I went with shortening. It’s just a little bit that gets mixed in with the hot cooked rice and some sugar and water. Layer two-thirds of the rice over the fruits to create an inner shell of sticky rice nested in the bowl.
mix the hot cooked sticky rice with water, sugar, and shortening (or lard)
line the bowl with rice taking care not to mess up the fruit pattern
If you aren’t familiar with Chinese sweets and desserts, sweet red bean paste is quite popular. I guess it’s like the chocolate of the Chinese dessert world, except we all know it’s nothing like chocolate. You can find sweet red bean paste in almost any Asian grocery store. This is the filling for pudding. Place the rest of the rice over the sweet red bean paste and press it all down nice and tight. It helps to wet your hands with water when touching the sticky rice (it’s sticky, see).
fill the well with the sweet red bean paste
cover with the remaining rice
press it down tightly and flatten the top with wet hands
Steam the rice pudding (the bowl is uncovered) in a steamer or on a rack in a large pot with a few inches of boiling water and the lid on for an hour. If you make small, individual puddings, you can steam for less time (like 30 minutes). While you wait for that to finish, you can make the simple syrup. When the pudding is ready, carefully remove it from the steamer. If you didn’t grease the bowl, you may want to run a knife along the edges to help the pudding release. Put your serving plate upside down over the bowl and invert the bowl and plate. I recommend using a plate with a rim to it so that the syrup doesn’t run over the edge when serving. Pour the syrup over the pudding and perhaps reserve a little for each slice.
steam in a steamer or a large pot with a shallow rack and a few inches of water
simple syrup: water, sugar, lemon juice
place a plate upside down over the steamed pudding
pour the syrup over the pudding
It’s a sweet treat, but not too sweet. For those who aren’t familiar with sticky rice, it is both sticky and chewy. Chinese eight treasure rice pudding is good luck because of the number eight and because sweet things are a good way to start off the Chinese New Year. Happy Year of the Snake (my mom’s year)!! xo
gong xi fa tsai! happy new year!
Chinese Eight Treasure Rice Pudding
from the Los Angeles Times
2 cups uncooked glutinous rice (also known as sticky rice or sweet rice)
1/2 cup hot water
2 tbsps sugar
4 tsps vegetable shortening
1 cup dried fruits of your choice (raisins, golden raisins, papaya, apricots, pineapple, cranberries, mangoes, peaches), seven in total
candied or maraschino cherries (red, you can also add green ones, but definitely get red)
1 cup sweet red bean/azuki paste (or more as needed)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsps cornstarch dissolved in 1 1/2 tbsps water
Cook the rice according the directions (omit salt if called for) or in a rice cooker. When the rice is done, mix the hot rice with 1/2 cup hot water, 2 tablespoons of sugar and the shortening. Chop any of the fruit up into slices or strips or pieces (depending on how you want to arrange the design). Place the fruit in the bottom of a 5-cup capacity bowl in a pattern to your liking (usually trying to resemble a flower). Line the bowl with two-thirds of the rice, making a layer that is about 1-inch thick and taking care not to disrupt the fruit pattern. Place the sweetened red bean paste into the well of the rice and flatten it. Top with the rest of the rice and then press it all down to pack it tightly. Flatten the surface of the rice with wet hands. Set the uncovered bowl on a rack in a large pot with a few inches of water or a steamer. Steam the rice pudding over boiling water for an hour in a covered pot.
Make the simple syrup: Combine the water, sugar, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. When sugar is dissolves, stir in the cornstarch and water mixture. Keep stirring. When the liquid thickens a little bit and becomes clear again, remove from heat.
Serving: Place a serving plate (one that has a lip so it catches the syrup) face down over the bowl of rice pudding. Carefully invert the bowl and plate. The pudding should release from the bowl. Pour hot syrup over the pudding and serve. Pour more syrup over individual pieces. Serves 8.