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