My beautiful, lovely Grandmother/ 外婆的咸肉粽/ Glutinous Rice Dumpling Wrapped in Bamboo Leaves

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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. 😀 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.

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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.

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(Make 50-60 bite sized Zongzi)

WARNING! THIS IS A VERY COMPLICATED AND TIME CONSUMING DISH!

Ingredients A:

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

 

Methods:

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! 😀

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It is important to tight the rice dumpling well and firm in order to prevent leaking during cooking process. FYI, 2 of mine leaked.

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 Here is my vegetarian version of Zongzi.

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With a pressure cooker, it only takes 40 minutes to cook the glutinous rice dumpling (Zongzi) ready.

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There are many ways to wrap a rice dumpling. Be creative and make your own style! No stress.

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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!

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 Now you may understand why I think my Popo would be proud of me for making this dish. 😉

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Self-made Marzipan Babies / Organizing a baby shower/ It’s a BOY!

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Yesterday my friend Laura and I organized a baby shower to my sister, Evon who is 9 months pregnant. It was our first time to organize an event like this.  I’m glad that the party went perfectly well without having the possible fuss of sudden baby delivery. Who knows?! I also felt touched to see Evon smiled and laughed so happily, which you could tell from her face all day long. I am glad that many of our friends showed up.  As you know foreigners like us, we don’t really have many friends nor family around, since this is not the place we grew up after all. The stereo type Finnish people are quite introvert and independent that I find it difficult to win their hearts. Therefore every effort they put and time they sacrifice to us, it means so much to us. We are very thankful and will always keep it to our hearts.

Not only that our friends came, they brought drinks, decoration, and gifts like diapers, pacifiers, baby wipes, baby clothes and etc. It was so fun to see those small little things that none of us are familiar with! We also played games like guessing the tummy width and baby names. Despite the reality, my husband and I have been calling the baby ‘Kasimir’ which is a Nordic or Russian name that sounds like Cashmere. 😀 He he he… Evon and her husband have always hated it but since they never tell the baby’s name, Kasimir sounds just fine to us. For food, Laura and I made a table full of Spanish pinchos and omelets as well as Mexican tortilla chips with guacamole.  Laura also made her signature Mango cake, which I have previously modified to a Strawberry version, click here for recipe. To fit the theme, I decided to make baby decoration for the cake. It was my first time ever to make a decor like this. Luckily I have experience playing with clay as a kid, and those baby images found from Google did make me believed that I can make it too. Why not? No tools or what so ever, it’s okay! I used my imagination. 😉

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Big thanks to Ksenia and Laura for sending me the pictures! 🙂

(Make 3 babies)

Ingredients:

80g White color Marzipan

1tsp Cocoa Powder

1tsp Vodka/Gin (More for diluting)

Methods:

1. Knead marzipan until it is soften and workable. Divide in 3 parts to make 3 babies.

2. To make a baby, take 1/3 of divided marzipan and roll into a ball to make a baby head. Use your thumbs to press on the ‘face’ to resemble eye sockets. (See image below)

3. Take 1/4 from the rest of the marzipan and roll into a long strip for making legs and arms. Arms should be thinner and smaller, and legs should be thicker and bigger.

4. Make the rest of the marzipan into the shape of an egg to resemble the body part. Make the lower part of the body rounder and bigger to resemble the tummy. Use fork to make chest lines.

5. Use any left-over or steal a small piece somewhere to make a tiny nose and ears. Use knife and fork to make shapes of the fingers and toes. (Repeat step 1-5 to make another 2 babies)

6. Mix cocoa powder with vodka/gin. Use a toothpick to dip the color and draw eyes and mouth carefully.  Dilute the color by adding more vodka/gin and brush it on the body to make it looks more real.

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Be creative of baby posing! 🙂IMG_2894

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My Malaysian friends said that they looked really scary and would cause them nightmares, while my Finnish friends loved them and said: ‘How cute! How cute!’ You see, cultural differences. But hey, it will work for Halloween too! Be prepared! 😉1383184_10151896756977840_2083112697_n

Chinese Vegetarian Steamed Bun/ 素食叉烧包

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In Malaysia there is a wide range of foods selection for all meal types, some are even available 24 hours. You name it and we got it, and that is one of the things I’m proud of my homeland. Today I’m gonna introduce something that I used to eat as breakfast or snack for anytime of the day. It’s Char Siew Bao, or Barbecue pork bun in direct Chinese translation. Our Chinese ancestors have brought it to Malaysia long time ago from China. But the Malaysian people like them with more dough, whereas in China it is crucial to keep the dough thin, which they also call it Jiao Zi/饺子.

Since I am recently into the ‘eating less meat’ mode, thanks to all the TED Food Matters documentaries about meat industry and health issues, I’m twisting the recipe to a vegetarian version to satisfy my needs and desire for eating these buns.;-) FYI, this is the third time I made it because the first 2 times were complete failures. Wrong yeast, wrong technique, tasted good though, but looked ugly. It takes a lot of practice to get it right especially in the wrapping part.

You can use any type of vegetables for the filling, or with meat if you like as Char Siew/Barbecue pork is the original recipe. Sweet version of the steamed buns are also very popular in Malaysia, normally found in red bean (豆沙包) or lotus-seed paste (莲蓉包), and those can be easily made or found in ethnic stores too.

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(Make 16 medium/ 3” wide buns)

Ingredients for the dough:

2 cups All purpose flour + 1/2 cup for knitting

1 cup Warm water

4 tbsp Sugar

1 tbsp Sesame oil

1 tsp Instant yeast

1 tsp Baking powder

1/2 tsp Salt

Methods:

1. Melt instant yeast into warm water until it bubbled up.

2. Put flour, sugar and salt into a deep bottom bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour, gradually stir in the yeast water to form a dough. Slightly knit and cover with wet towel. Let it raise for 2 hours. (You can put it into the oven with a bowl of hot water beneath it to raise the temperature)

3. When the dough has doubled its size (that’s when it should be really soft in texture), knit the dough on a floured table and add in baking powder and sesame oil. Cover and let it raise for another 30 minutes.

4. Roll dough into a long cylinder shape and cut into half. Each halves can be rolled again and cut into 8 equal pieces, that makes a total of 16 pieces. Make them into balls by hands, and then flattened with wooden roller into round-flat sheets. ( You can also cut the dough into a total of 8 to make 8 big buns).

5. Place about 1 tbsp of the mushroom fillings (see below) into the middle of the sheet and fold it to closure. (There is a video I found teaches you how, click here.) Place each buns on cupcake papers or shaped baking sheets.

6. Let buns rest for 10 minutes and place them to steam with cold water. When the water starts boiling, let it boil for 10 minutes and then remove from heat. REMEMBER: Let the buns to be in the steamer untouched for at least 2-3 minutes before opening the lid. It will prevent the skin of the buns from wrinkling. Served immediately.
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Mushroom fillings:

7-8 Mushrooms, diced

1 Carrot, diced

2 Spring onion stalks, diced

2 Garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp Hoisin sauce

2 tbsp Soy sauce

2 tbsp Sesame oil

1 tbsp of Minced ginger

1 tbsp Shao Xing wine/ cooking wine

1 tbsp Sugar

1 tsp Five spice powder

1,5 tsp Corn starch/ potato flour

150 ml Water

Methods for Mushroom fillings:

1. Heat up oil in wok, fry garlic until slightly brown. Add in ginger and all the vegetables, cook until softened.

2. Season with Hoisin sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, wine, sugar and five spice powder. Cook the vegetables through (10 min).

3. Mix corn starch with water and stir gradually into the wok to make gravy. Set aside and let it cool before wrapping.

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It helped me when I practiced the wrapping with a piece of kitchen paper! 😀  I didn’t waste any of my precious dough.

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My amateur bun making ❤

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