February 16, 2011

gluttonous, glutinous rice balls

"Yes, the only people in the world whom it seems to me the Jews are not afraid of are the Chinese. Because, one, the way they speak English makes my father sound like Lord Chesterfield; two, the insides of their heads are just so much fried rice anyway; and three, to them we are not Jews but white--and maybe even Anglo-Saxon. Imagine!"
--Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
Well, Jewish and Chinese people have at least one thing in common: mahjong. My first Philip Roth experience has been semisweet (a good quality in fine chocolate, but not, unfortunately, in books). More specifically, I find him semi-entertaining, semi-annoying. This book reminds me of a cross between Harold Brodkey and Chaim Potok, but a watered-down version of each.

I have no idea if Jewish people enjoy eating glutinous rice balls, but I certainly do. If you've never had them before, the Lantern Festival (Feb. 17 this year) gives you an excuse to try them...and if you're like me, soon you'll be clamoring after them year-round.

I recently discovered the secret to improving the texture: use equal parts of sweet rice flour and regular rice flour. Rice flour is used in pan-fried turnip cakes (yum!) but it really helps make a difference in these glutinous rice balls. In the past I'd only used sweet/glutinous rice flour to make these, and the dough was either too sticky or too dry. The combination of sweet rice flour and rice flour really results in a dough that has a wonderful consistency. I also picked up a technique from a street vendor in Taiwan last year: rolling the dough into logs and then divvying up the logs into equal-sized bits. They look a little like pillow mints, don't they?

Glutinous Rice Balls/Tangyuan (湯圓)
1/2 cup sweet rice flour + 1/2 cup regular rice flour
Hot water
1 tbsp granulated sugar (optional)

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Combine the sweet rice flour, rice flour, and sugar in a bowl. Add hot water a tablespoon at a time, mixing with chopsticks, until the dough is not sticky but also not dry. It should be moist to the touch, without being sticky. If you accidentally add too much water, just add more of the rice flour and sweet rice flour, in equal parts.

Roll the dough into thin logs and cut into evenly sized, pillow-mint-like shapes. You can roll the shapes into balls, if you want, or leave them in their pillow-mint shapes, which lends a rustic quality that I personally quite like. Alternatively, you can also roll the dough into larger discs and stuff them with black sesame powder, red bean paste, or peanuts, and then wrap them up like dumplings.

Drop the balls into the pot of boiling water. When they float, they're done. Fish them out and consume immediately, with plain sugar water or red bean soup. They're also especially tasty with shaved ice and fruit.


Anonymous said...

Please explain "plain sugar water". You drink sugared water with the glutinous rice balls rather than adding sweetener to the balls themselves? Thank you.

thefattyreader said...

You can either add sugar to the dough directly, or add sugar (as much or as little you'd like) to the same hot water you used for cooking the glutinous rice balls. Just spoon some of this plain sugar water over the cooked rice balls and eat it like a soup. Hope you like it! :)

Natalie said...

Ah! Thank you so so much for this recipe. I have been searching everywhere for something that tells me why my glutinous rice balls are so sticky. I had tried nearly everything. Cooked them perfectly, however once cooked, the dough was so sticky that it was hard to swallow. I was only using glutinous rice. I'm going to try this recipe. I'm a bit puzzled as to how they're called glutinous rice balls though, because the rice isn't a glutinous kind. I'll give this a go