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Glutinous Rice Ball with Red Bean Paste

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Glutinous Rice Balls with Red Bean Paste is a traditional Chinese dessert that is well loved by all generations. It is called as Tang yuan in Chinese and is basically made from glutinous rice flour. Glutinous rice flour is mixed with a small amount of water to form balls and is then cooked and served in boiling water. Tangyuan can be either small or large, and filled or unfilled.

They are traditionally eaten during Yuanxiao, or the Lantern Festival. Glutinous rice balls with red bean paste or tang yuan is a traditional holiday food and now has popularly become one of the most common everyday foods the Chinese eat. There are many ways to make tang yuan. They can be either filled or unfilled, with popular fillings being peanut, black sesame or red bean paste.

The traditional version is often unfilled rice balls served in a sweet soup. The most popular soup is the one with ginger and rock sugar, but there's also red bean and black sesame soup. The unfilled tang yuan tend to be smaller in size, and also is more colorful. Eating the tang yuan has an important cultural significance. For many Chinese families in China and overseas, this dish is usually eaten together with family.

The round shape of the balls and the bowls where they are served, come to symbolize the family togetherness. The most prominent varieties come from Ningbo and Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province. However, they are traditionally eaten throughout China. Glutinous rice balls with red bean paste or Tang yuan have also come to be associated with the Winter Solstice and Chinese New Year in various regions.

Today, the food is eaten all year round. Mass-produce are commonly found in the frozen food section of Asian supermarkets in China and overseas. However, most people prefer to make their own since it's easy as a piece of... rice ball. This recipe uses glutinous rice flour (also called sticky rice flour), balls coated with coconut stuffed with sweet red bean paste.

Red bean paste or Azuki bean paste is a sweet, dark red bean paste originating from China. It is often used in Chinese cuisine, Korean cuisine and Japanese confectionery. This paste is prepared by boiling and mashing red bean or azuki beans and then sweetening the paste with sugar or honey. The husk of the beans is removed by sieving before sweetening, which leads to a smoother and more homogenous paste.

As for the taste of this dish, both the texture and flavor of the glutinous rice balls are totally different from anything. It is soft, almost a bit gooey, and the glutinous rice flour adds a very distinct, yet mild taste. Red bean paste makes a pleasant filling because it’s quite malleable. You can also be free to experiment with other fillings if desired such as a combination of crushed peanuts and brown sugar, or a mixture of softened butter, coconut and sugar would both be good choices.

Glutinous rice balls with red bean paste is most popular during the winter solstice (Dongzhi festival) – usually celebrated in December (it was on the 22nd last year), and symbolizes the day in the year where the day is the shortest. After this celebration, the Chinese believe that the days will be filled with more hours of sunlight, and therefore and increase in the amount of positive energy. In addition, eating these during the winter solstice also symbolizes becoming a year older.

Tang yuan are also made on special celebrations such as Chinese New Year and used as an offering to the gods. They are also served during weddings. You can make sweet or savory fillings. Northern China variations mix sesame, peanuts, sweet bean paste and place them into bamboo baskets with rice flour, sprinkle water continuously on the rice flour to form the fillings and form round balls.

Southern variations are typically larger, and are made by wrapping the filling into sticky rice flour wrapping and crumpling them into balls. Filled tang yuan are served along with the water in which it is boiled (hence the "soup" in the name) while unfilled tang yuan are served as part of a sweet dessert soup (known in Cantonese cuisine as tong sui, which literally means "sugar water").

To prepare this lovely glutinous rice flour balls with red bean paste, firstly mix glutinous rice flour and corn flour in a large bowl. Add water and condensed milk, mix well as soft paste roll. Pout into pain container and steam on high heat for 15 minutes.

Cut the paste roll into 6 balls while it cools down; press a hole on ball by thumb. Steam red bean paste with 1 tablespoon of water until soft and let it cool. Fill red bean paste into the rice ball’s hole by a spoon, seal the rice balls. Rolling the rice ball gently until the ball is total sealed. Roll over on grinded coconut, dish up and serve in cool.

TIP: Glutinous rice flour can be a bit tricky to work with – at first it looks too dry and the next thing you know the dough is sticking to your hands because you’ve added too much water. If that happens, add a bit more glutinous rice flour. On the other hand, if the dough is too dry, add more boiled water, a small amount at a time. The amount of water needed can vary quite a bit depending on the humidity level where you live and the age of the flour.

Glutinous rice flour is pretty sticky in its own nature even when is cooked. If the flour is steamed for enough time, it’s all right even though it still sticks to your chopstick a bit. If you don’t taste any uncooked-flour flavor, it’s cooked and can use it to wrap fillings.

A glutinous rice ball with red bean paste is a colorful treat and a very fitting dish because the round shape of the rice balls symbolizes family reunion, harmony, unity and prosperity. A lot of people color the rice balls pink or red because it's supposed to bring good luck.

Do try this recipe and enjoy eating!

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