I only started to appreciate traditions and festival foods after I came to live in Finland, a place that has winter more than 6 months, celebrates to the midnight sun during the summer that lasts no longer than 2 months. It is clearly different than where I came from, Malaysia. As Malaysian Chinese, we carried out many practices originated from China. Some food and cultures have been also created only in Malaysia partly influenced by the Malay, Indian and European cultures. To name, black pepper crabs, pork ribs in herb tea, fish head curry are becoming some of those signature dishes of Malaysia.
This dish I’m introducing today is one of those festival dishes originated from China. Making glutinous rice dumpling or ‘Zongzi’ in Chinese, during the Dragon Boat Festival remains one of those practices carried on from generation to generation. There is a nice story about the history of making glutinous rice dumpling. You may go ahead and google, all I will tell you is that this dish was supposed to be for fishes not human. :-D Well, now it does not sound as tempting anymore, does it? No worries, this is not the same anymore compared to how it started. It is safe to be consumed by human and super delicious!
My grandmother, who I love to death used to make Zongzi every year. She would make countless bundles of these and hang them everywhere under the ceiling to cool. We always have too many Zongzi and enough to hand out some to the neighbours and relatives, it made me so proud. My grandmother used to have all the energy for it. But she stopped doing all these fun stuffs after she got that terrible stroke that made her body half paralysed. Before that she used to be out going, travelling to China, playing Ma Jong everywhere, running after me with bamboo stick real fast. I have been really sad to see that terrible change in her life. For over 20 years, she has been hiding from the society in her empty house, avoid meeting relatives and feeling ashamed of how she looks, not capable to walk properly. When me and my Finnish husband got married, I was excited to bring him back to the village I grew up in Johor Bahru and to meet my grandmother. I remembered while this white guy walked into her home, my grandmother immediately said that, ‘Oh no… there is nothing to see here, I’ve got nothing to show in my house, I’m a shamed!’
Should have correct her immediately that she is the only one and the most beautiful thing to be seen in that empty house.
I tried to call her every week and if not, I feel guilty and regret that I didn’t. Too bad there is a thing called time zone differences in the world. It makes it rather difficult to reach her before her bedtime. I’m sure my grandma would be very proud of me for making these rice dumpling all by myself. Oh well, my sister helped a little. ;-) I can’t see but next time when I tell her this, I’m sure she will be smiling like this.
I did not realise that Popo, my grandmother looks much older than the picture in my head. :( Last phone call she said that she has a reason to feel happy again because she heard my voice. (Cried…)
Here is to my Popo, my beloved grandmother.
(Make 50-60 bite sized Zongzi)
WARNING! THIS IS A VERY COMPLICATED AND TIME CONSUMING DISH!
1 kilo Glutinous rice
400g Peeled split mung bean
200g Dried chestnut
200g/ 1/2 pack Dried bamboo leaves
15-20 pieces Dried shiitake mushroom
4 Tbsp Oyster/Mushroom sauce
4 Tbsp Seseme oil
4 Tbsp Soy sauce
2 Tbsp Deep fried shallot (optional)
Several salted duck eggs (optional)
Plastic stings or hemp, cut into 50cm long and tight into bundles (I used wool thread :-P)
Ingredients B for Carnivores:
500g Pork belly, cut into biteable cubes
100g Dried Shrimp (optional)
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Oyster sauce
1 Tbsp Soy sauce
1 Tbsp Dark soy sauce
1 Tsp 5 spice powder
Ingredients C for Vegetarians:
300g Seitan, cut into biteable cubes
150g Peanut, soaked in water (Can be replaced by canned peanut)
50g Chinese preserved kale/ vegetable (optional)
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Mushroom sauce
1 Tbsp Soy sauce
1Tbsp Dark soy sauce
1 Tsp 5 spice powder
1) (Ingredients A) Soak glutinous rice, peeled split mung bean, dried chestnut, dried bamboo leaves and dried shiitake mushroom in water separately overnight. Washed and drained. Mix glutinous rice and mung bean together with 2 tbsp oyster/mushroom sauce, 2 tbsp sesame oil and 2 tbsp soy sauce and deep-fried shallot in a bowl. Set aside.
2) Heat up oil in wok pan, stir fry mushroom and chestnut separately with the rest of the sauces, place also separately.
(The reason to place ingredients separately is to make sure that you get a piece of everything wrapped into every rice dumplings one by one.)
For Carnivores (Ingredients B):
2) Fry pork in oil with garlic, add oyster sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce and 5 spice powder until cooked. Meanwhile, toast dried shrimp in hot pan with a little bit of oil until fragrant. Set aside.
For Vegetarians (Ingredients C):
2) Fry seitan in oil with garlic, add in mushroom sauce, soy sauce, dark soy sauce and 5 spice powder and mix well. Meanwhile toast peanut with a little bit oil and salt. Set aside.
3) To make a rice dumpling, placed 2 bamboo leaves together horizontally and put both ends together to make a pocket. Put in 1 tbsp of rice-mung bean filling, add one piece of everything on top: mushroom, chestnut, pork/seitan, peanut, some Chinese preserved kale (optional) and salted duck egg (optional). Top up more rice-mung bean filling to cover up. Fold the leaves to closure, wrap the dumpling tightly with strings.
4) Cook rice dumplings in a deep cooking pot with enough water that covers them. Add 1 Tbsp of salt. Bring to boil, turn the heat to medium low, cook the dumplings for 4 hours. Enjoy as breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner.
I froze most of the dumplings in freezer and whenever I feel like it, I take it out and steam it for 10-15 minutes. I have let my Finnish, Chinese and Russian friends tried too, some said that one is definitely not enough! :-D
It is important to tight the rice dumpling well and firm in order to prevent leaking during cooking process. FYI, 2 of mine leaked.
Here is my vegetarian version of Zongzi.
With a pressure cooker, it only takes 40 minutes to cook the glutinous rice dumpling (Zongzi) ready.
There are many ways to wrap a rice dumpling. Be creative and make your own style! No stress.
If you may wonder, the main flavour of this dish comes from the fragrance of the bamboo leaves: woody, tea like aromas, hard to describe, very unique indeed!
Now you may understand why I think my Popo would be proud of me for making this dish. ;-)