Glutinous Rice Balls with Rock Sugar in Sweet Ginger Soup (Tang Yuan)

by thomandaimee

Tang Yuan

Well, the earth hasn’t ended and the human race are up and about. It’s another day like the day before and will be so the next.

But today is a special day.

21 December marks the Winter Solstice and on this occasion, it is tradition for the family to come together to celebrate Dong zhi (冬至). In our house, it will be a simple meal that ends off with a bowl of Tang Yuan (汤圆) – glutinous rice balls in sweet ginger syrup. We used to buy ready-made ones from the supermarket but this year, we decided to make them from scratch. Perhaps it was the recent passing of our beloved Grandma that roused this sudden need of keeping tradition. Our Mama (as we called her) used to squat on the kitchen floor and roll out rice ball after rice ball. All of them were in the prettiest shade of pink. Sometimes if we didn’t mess up too much, she would let us help. Sticky fingers and young children weren’t the right combination though. We were better at gulping down those delicious Tang Yuan.

This is her recipe. Instead of the usual peanut, sesame or red bean sauce, it uses rock sugar as the filling. As you bite into the chewy rice balls, the rock sugar breaks like candy and fills your mouth with a honey-like flavour. Pandan leaves are also added into the ginger soup for fragrance and depth. This is a dessert that is meant to be eaten hot; this after all being served during the coldest of winter. We love our Tang Yuan in the traditional white and pink, but there are no restrictions whatsoever. If green rice balls speak to you, go ahead. Just remember they are meant for eating.

According to N, it is difficult to list down the ingredients to its exact measurements. Chinese cooking uses a lot of one’s intuition. There is no precision; if something more was needed, just continue adding. They are terribly easy to make though, and so fun when the whole family is doing it together. The chaos, the noise and the satisfaction.

Happy Dong zhi!

Glutinous Rice Balls with Rock Sugar in Sweet Ginger Soup (Tang Yuan)

Glutinous Rice Flour
Water, room temperature
Sugarcane Rock Candy, cut to little bite sizes
Red colouring (Optional)

For Ginger Sweet Soup
Ginger slices
Pandan leaves, knotted
Rock sugar

Mix glutinous rice flour and water, until it feels like play doh, and the mixture starts not to stick on your fingers. It should not be so wet or soft or it will disintegrate once cooked. Neither should it be too hard or you’ll be eating stones.

To make pink dough, add the red colouring to the dough. Add little by little as red colouring goes a long way.

When the dough is ready, take a lump of dough, roll it into a ball, press down the center and place the cut sugarcane rock candy on the dough. Squeeze the edges of dough to the middle, then roll it into a circle. Repeat the process.

To make the ginger sweet soup, bring a pot of water to boil, then turn down the heat to low. Add ginger slices and pandan leaves to the water. Then add rock sugar. Depending on your preference, you can add more ginger slices and rock sugar. Always taste your soup and alter according to taste!

Let the sweet soup come to a slight simmer. Before you add your little tang yuans to the sweet soup, roll them into balls again and then plop them in. Repeat the process. Allow the tang yuans to have their own space as placing in too many at a time will lead them to stick to each other. The tang yuans are ready when they float to the top.

Remove ginger slices and pandan leaves. Serve them piping hot, in a bowl.