Sweet Rice Dumplings with Pumpkin (Tang Yuan) + A Pumpkin Party!

The last time I shared a kitchen with my family in Malaysia was on the night before my little brother's wedding, making tang yuan with aunts, uncles, and cousins I had lost touch with for many years. 

Tang yuan are sticky balls made of glutinous rice flour that sometimes have a sweet peanut, black sesame seed or red bean filling, served in a spicy ginger soup. These dumplings are usually made during the Winter Solstice festival (happening soon) or on the occasion of a family reunion. 

In Chinese tradition, the roundness and stickiness of the balls symbolize harmony and unity within the family. Rarely do we make tang yuan for no special reason, and they are almost always done around a table full of family members involved in various stages of the cooking process. Kneading, the shaping of balls, boiling and scooping, talking loudly, and laughing are all part of the ritual. 

That night, we were honoring the union of two people, and it was one of the most joyous tang yuan making sessions I've ever had in my life.  

I recently made tang yuan again for the #virtualpumpkinparty spearheaded by Sara of Cake Over Steak (who was featured in my Why I Write About Food interview series here) and Aimee of Twigg Studios. It's a fitting dish for this massive gathering of over 100 food bloggers all sharing recipes based on pumpkin in the spirit of celebrating autumn and one of its most iconic produce.

This special tang yuan recipe has pumpkin giving the sweet rice dumplings a bright orange glow and pumpkin integrating with peanut butter for a creamy filling. To serve, an aromatic ginger and pandan leaf-infused syrup delivers the flavors beautifully. 

To make this pumpkin tang yuan, I needed two things: my dad's recipe and pumpkins! So off we went to Perry Family Pumpkin Patch in Fremont to pick some pumpkins, which, together with apple picking, is quickly becoming an autumn tradition for my husband and I here in California. 

I spent last autumn trying all the apple varieties that we could get our hands on, an obsession that has lived on due to the many more we're discovering this year (sweetango and ambrosia, anyone?). This autumn, my attention has turned to the many varieties of winter squash, and I'm slowly working my way down the list, one knobby, twisty, and elongated gourd at a time. 

Along the way, we're also discovering the many colors of Indian corn, another autumn favorite, including a variety that lets you make popcorn on the cob in the microwave (true story, check it out on my Instagram!).

On that cloudy Sunday in early October, we went to the pumpkin patch for our first picks of the season and we got a truckload of them. At any other time of the year, I would have no qualms about using canned pumpkin puree, but it's autumn now and pumpkins are literally everywhere so it makes perfect sense for me to make my own pumpkin puree. 

Pumpkin puree is not difficult to make at home. This is how I do it: Pick medium-sized pumpkins and cut them into quarters. Then scoop out the seeds and pulp. Place them face down on a baking sheet filled with some water and roast at 375° F until tender when poked with a fork, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool and scrape the flesh from the skin. Process in a food processor until smooth. It does take some time so when I do it I make a big batch and divide the pumpkin puree into manageable portions to store in the refrigerator or freezer until needed. 

My dad's recipe for making tang yuan turned out to be really simple and calls for an instinctive cooking judgement that's not difficult to master. This is how it goes: Mix 1 cup of glutinous rice flour (the same ingredient for making mochi and available at most Asian grocery stores) with 1/2 cup of tepid water and mix with hands to form a dough. It's ready when the dough is not sticky anymore. Add more flour or water as needed to achieve the right consistency, which should make it easy to roll into little balls and bowl shape to be filled with the paste. They are then cooked in boiling water and you'll know they are done when they float to the surface. 

And that's it, folks! It's really easy. 

I made an original dough and used pumpkin puree (as opposed to the food coloring normally used) to make a yellow dough. It took me several tries to get the pumpkin dough to the desired consistency and once I figured out the right combination of measurements, I was rewarded with terrific little bursts of cheery sunshine the result of all-natural ingredients. 

From the kneading and shaping into balls to the boiling of the balls and waiting for them to float (a sign that they are done), this is cooking to be shared with others, not because the process is particularly demanding but because the recipe is so fun and easy that chatter and merriment are written into it. 

Served with a bowl of lively ginger syrup, these chewy, sticky little balls and the gently rich pumpkin and peanut butter filling will warm you up this season in all the right places, traveling from your belly straight to your heart. 

Happy autumn, friends! 

Sign up for personalized email updates here and subscribe on YouTube for step-by-step recipes. Let's connect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest

Sweet Rice Dumplings with Pumpkin (Tang Yuan)
Tang yuan is usually made on the occasion of a family reunion among the Chinese in Malaysia, such as the Winter Solstice festival. These dumplings have a bursting golden hue from pumpkin puree and are filled with a creamy pumpkin and peanut butter paste. Makes about 16 balls for 4 to 6 servings.

3 cups water
2-inch ginger, sliced
1/2 cup sugar, to taste
2 to 3 pandan leaves* (optional)

Bring water to a boil. Add ginger, sugar, and pandan leaves, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Adjust sugar to taste. Set aside. 

1/4 cup pumpkin puree*
2 tablespoons coconut sugar
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

In a small bowl, mix pumpkin puree, coconut sugar, and peanut butter into a paste. Set aside. 

Original dough: 1 cup glutinous rice flour + 1/2 cup tepid water
Pumpkin dough: 1 cup glutinous rice flour + 1/4 cup pumpkin puree + 1/4 cup tepid water

To make the original dough, place glutinous rice flour in a large bowl and slowly add water while mixing with the hands to form a dough that resembles putty. The dough is ready when it no longer stick to your hands. Add a little flour or water as needed. It should be soft, pliable, and not too wet. Cover with a damp towel and set aside.

To make the pumpkin dough, place glutinous rice flour in a large bowl together with pumpkin puree and repeat the steps above. Distribute the pumpkin puree well to get an even color. 

Break both the doughs into pieces (about 16) and roll each piece into a ball. Press your thumb into each ball to shape it into a bowl, ensuring that you have a thicker bottom. Scoop some filling into the middle of each ball and gently fold the edge and pinch together lightly to seal the dumpling. Carefully shape each filled dumpling into a ball. 

While you are assembling the dumplings, bring a pot of water to the boil. Make sure that the water is at least 2 inches higher than the dumplings. Drop the dumplings into the boiling water and simmer until they float. Let the dumplings on the surface cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Then scoop them out, without the water, onto a bowl and serve with warm ginger syrup. 

· Pandan leaves are commonly used in Southeast Asian cooking as a flavoring in both sweet and savory dishes. They can be found refrigerated or frozen at Asian grocery stores. 
· To make pumpkin puree, cut medium-sized pumpkins into quarters and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Place them face down on a baking sheet filled with some water and roast at 375° F until tender when poked with a fork, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool and scrape the flesh from the skin. Process in a food processor until smooth. 
· Here are my other recipes using pumpkin: 
Sweet Potato Spelt Rolls with a Pumpkin Surprise
No-Bake Vegan and Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie


Pumpkin Party
If you love pumpkin, you're in for a treat. Check out all the amazing pumpkin recipes at the #virtualpumpkinparty. 

Cake Over Steak • Quick Pumpkin and Kale Risotto + Arancini
Twigg Studios • Sausage Stuffing Baked in a Pumpkin
Donuts, Dresses and Dirt • Pumpkin Spice Latte Popsicles
Cloudy Kitchen • Pumpkin Cake with Vanilla German Buttercream
Vegetarian Ventures • Smoky Pumpkin & Black Sesame Hummus
Eat Boutique • Pumpkin Scallion Dumplings
A Little Saffron • Pumpkin Stuffed Shells
Two Red Bowls • Pumpkin & Maple Caramel Baked French Toast
Wallflower Kitchen • Mini Pumpkin & Cinnamon Sugar Donuts
Wit & Vinegar • Pumpkin Butterscotch Banana Split
Style Sweet CA • Pumpkin Creme Brulee Cake
Nommable • Pumpkin Biscuits with Mushroom Thyme Gravy
With Food + Love • Cinnamon Raisin Pumpkin Seed Bread
Hortus • Creamy Roasted Pumpkin Soup
Sevengrams • Vegan Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream
Jojotastic • 1 Pumpkin, 2 Ways: Pumpkin Trail Mix & Dog Treats
Grain Changer • Pumpkin Spice Baked Oatmeal
Girl Versus Dough • Pumpkin Cranberry Flax Crisps
Earthy Feast • Pumpkin Grits + Pumpkin Home Fries + a Fried Egg
Harvest and Honey • Truffled Pumpkin Pappardelle Alfredo with Frizzled Sage
Tasty Seasons • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cake
Broma Bakery • Pumpkin Butter Pop Tarts
Tending the Table • Roasted Pumpkin and Barley Salad
The Sugar Hit • Super Soft Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
Delicious Not Gorgeous • Waffles with Spiced Pumpkin Butter and Brown Sugar Walnut Crumble
Taste Love and Nourish • Pumpkin Bread Pudding
The Green Life • Pumpkin Spice Chocolate Chunk & Hazelnut Skillet Cookie (Vegan)
Foolproof Living • Pumpkin Creme Fraiche Pasta with Sage
The Monday Box • Pumpkin Mini Bundt Cakes
Design Crush • Pumpkin Bourbon Hot Toddy
The Road to Honey • Pumpkin Pie & Chocolate Layer Cake
My Name is Yeh • Roasted Pumpkin with Yogurt and Hazelnut Dukkah
Give Recipe • Orange Chocolate Pumpkin Bread
Heartbeet Kitchen • Magic Vegan Pumpkin Pie Fudge
Beard and Bonnet • Marbled Pumpkin Muffins
Eat Within Your Means • Vegan Pumpkin Blender Muffins
Snixy Kitchen • Pumpkin Tapioca Pudding with Candied Pumpkin Seeds
Ruby Josephine • Moroccan Sweet Pumpkin + Beef Tagine
Lab Noon • Pasta Bake with Roasted Pumpkin and Saffron Sauce, Pistachio and Goat Cheese
An Edible Mosaic • Pumpkin Spice Chia Seed Pudding
Hey Modest Marce • Mascarpone Pumpkin Pie
Inspired By the Seasons • Pumpkin Applesauce Smoothie
CaliGirl Cooking • Pumpkin Praline Cinnamon Rolls with Spiked Cream Cheese Glaze
Sally’s Baking Addiction • Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bundt Cake
Well and Full • Spicy Chipotle Pumpkin Hummus
Appeasing a Food Geek • Cheese Fondue Stuffed Roasted Pumpkin
SweetPhi • Pumpkin Chili Biscuit Bake
Warm Vanilla Sugar • Buttermilk Pumpkin Doughnuts
Mademoiselle Poirot • Cinnamon-Pumpkin Mousse on Honey Panna Cotta topped with Hazelnut Brittle
Heart of a Baker • Pumpkin Sticky Buns with Vanilla Bean Frosting
Flourishing Foodie • Massaman Curry with Pumpkin and Chickpeas
Ginger & Toasted Sesame • Pumpkin Jeon
Lindsay Jang • Best Ever DIY Pumpkin Spiced Latte
Fix Feast Flair • Hokkaido Pumpkin + Sage Mac and Gouda
Will Frolic for Food • Pumpkin Kale Patties with Coconut Cilantro Rice
A Couple Cooks • Pumpkin Pecan Baked Steel Cut Oats
Vermilion Red • Pumpkin Pie Souffle
B. Britnell • Vegan Pumpkin Pie
Displaced Housewife • Brown Butter Pumpkin Donuts
Sweet Gula • Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
La Pêche Fraîche • Pumpkin and Condensed Milk Cakes
Kitchen Konfidence • Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi with Rosemary Brown Butter Sauce
Loves Food, Loves to Eat • Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Kale & Caramel • Goat Cheese & Sage-Stuffed Pumpkin Challah
Okie Dokie Artichokie • Pumpkin Chorizo Chili with Sweet Potatoes + Pinto Beans
Salted Plains • Easy Pumpkin Bread
Liliahna • Chicken Legs with Pumpkin and Tortellini
TermiNatetor Kitchen • Whole Wheat, Pumpkin & Brown Sugar Brioche
Vermilion Roots • Sweet Rice Dumplings with Pumpkin
Celebrate Creativity • Pumpkin Mini Cheesecake Tarts
Serendipity Bakes • Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake
So Much Yum • Vegan Maple-Glazed Pumpkin Spice Doughnuts
The Brick Kitchen • Pumpkin, Pecan & White Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches
Lisli • Pumpkin Pie Cake
Cookie Dough and Oven Mitt • Pumpkin Pie Dip
Fig+Bleu • Pumpkin Granola
The Speckled Palate • Pumpkin Caramel Cream Cheese Swirl Blondies
Cook Til Delicious • Fall Cliche Cake (Pumpkin Spice Cake / Maple Cream Cheese Frosting / Apple Cider Caramel Sauce)
Floating Kitchen • Chicken and Pumpkin Chili
The Wood and Spoon • Pumpkin Pecan Cake with Burnt Sugar Frosting
Fork Vs Spoon • Pumpkin Streusel Muffins
Lemon & Vanilla • Pumpkin and Coconut Caramel Flan
Dunk & Crumble • Pumpkin Chocolate Icebox Cake
Chicano Eats • Pumpkin Butter Pan de Muerto
On the Plate • Pumpkin Pancakes, Salted Caramel & Pecans
Rough Measures • Cosy Pumpkin Spice Latte (Caffeine and Dairy Free)
Brewing Happiness • Pumpkin Ginger Breakfast Cookies
A Butterful Mind • Pumpkin Cheesecake with Vanilla Whipped Cream
The Little Loaf • Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Fork to Belly • Pumpkin Gnocchi
The Little Epicurean • Chocolate Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie
Bourbon and Honey • Spicy Roasted Pumpkin with Honey and Feta
What to Cook Today • Spicy Pumpkin Noodle Soup
Food by Mars • Pumpkin Pie (Grain-Free, Diary-Free)
The Bojon Gourmet • Pumpkin Butterscotch Pudding
Oh Honey Bakes • Pumpkin Cake with Gingersnap Toffee
Long Distance Baking • Layered Pumpkin Cheesecake
The Jam Lab • Pumpkin Madeleines Dipped in White Chocolate
The Lemon Apron • Pumpkin Gingerbread Loaf with an Olive Oil Glaze
Sun Diego Eats • Thai Pumpkin & Sticky Rice Cakes
A Cozy Kitchen • Pumpkin Chai Scones with Black Tea Glaze
A Cookie Named Desire • Pumpkin Shrubs
Eating Clean Recipes • Vegan Pumpkin Chia Pudding
Kingfield Kitchen • Vegan Fresh Pumpkin Soup
Drink and Cocktail Recipes • Pumpkin Dirty Chai
The Pig & Quill • Pumpkin Sage Cannelloni (Dairy-Free)
My Lavender Blues • Pumpkin, Banana & Olive Oil Bundt Cake
Betty Liu • Pumpkin + Pear Butter Baked Melty Cheese
Happy Hearted Kitchen • Cinnamon Roasted Pumpkin with Tahini Yogurt + Hazelnut Dukkah
InHappenstance • Pumpkin Scones with Maple Butter
Live Eat Learn • Pumpkin Gingerbread Hot Cocoa