I love to eat zong, probably because I love glutinous rice.
My early memory of zong was my Ah Ma’s (maternal grandma for Hokkien), with black eyed peas and fatty pork, which is out of this world. I remember she made them all by herself during the Duan Wu (端午节）or the Dragon Boat Festival or as and when someone was visiting my uncles in Taiwan, and she wanted to bring them some.
I remember she would prepare the ingredient, put them in small little bowls, then she would sit on a stool, meticulously filling each one up and wrapping them into pyramid perfection.
As I spent my first 3 years of primary education living with my Ah Ma, my early childhood memory of food was her cooking. Her simple but delicious kon-loh-mee (干捞面）ladened with deep fried lard cubes and a sprinkle of ajinomoto; and her dried vege pork soup (菜干汤) were some of the best food I’d tasted. Her bak zhang (Hokkien for pork zong zi) was also a legacy, no other zong zi I’d tasted later are up to par.
My Ah Ma has passed away many years now due to her grief for the loss of my mum (who lost her fight with cancer). I didn’t learn up her bak zhang’s recipe, as I wasn’t interested in cooking back then, when both the family’s greatest chefs were still around. My loss really.
Due to a vow I’d made I’d not been eating pork for almost 20 years now, finding a good tasting pork free zong zi is very difficult, most of them were expensive with not much fillings except for glutinous rice.
So 4 years ago, I decided to make myself, using good ingredients, replacing pork with scallop following a pork zong zi recipe, and I used split mung beans instead of black eyed peas like my Ah Ma’s.
The difficult part in making zong zi is not in preparing the ingredients, but in the wrapping. The 1st year I made them, it took me so long just to wrap them properly and secure them with strings (yes, most of them have to be tied with 2 strings or more!); and about 1/4 of them burst open during boiling. 2nd year was better, but still took me a long time, and a couple still burst opened.
Last year, I watched this recording from Wendy Kong, and that’s when I really learnt how to wrap them properly. With right technique, I spent less time wrapping them, they are better secured and fewer zong zi unwrapped itself during boiling.
Last Sunday, while the whole world is celebrating Father’s Day, I decided to use that free day to make some.
This is the recipe I used, adapted to our taste over the years.
(Estimate to make about 30 zong zi, but can be more or less depending on the size the zong zi, so usually I’ll prepare more ingredient except for rice and split mung beans, mission is accomplished when the rice is all used up)
1kg glutinous rice (rinse and soak in water for ~4hrs）
500g split mung beans (rinse and soak in water for 3hrs, then drain thoroughly)
30 chestnuts (soak overnight, pick out the skin and boil until soft about 1hr)
hand full of dried shrimp (rinse and soak in water for 10mins then drain, then fry till fragrant)
30 dried small scallop (rinse and soak in water for 20mins then drain, then lightly fry till fragrant)
30 salted egg yolks
30 mushrooms (I soak overnight, then stew them in some sugar, salt and oyster sauce)
60 bamboo leaves (soak overnight, wiped and clean each leave and I usually prepare more just in case any of them are torn)
Spices for the rice
9 tbs oil
12 cloves garlic (remove skin and chop)
15 shallots (remove skin and slice them thinly)
3 star anise (rinse)
6 tsp oyster sauce
1 1/2 tsp five-spice powder
6tsp light soy sauce
6 tsp sugar
4 1/2 tsp salt
For the rice
1. Heat up oil in wok, stir-fry garlic, shallot and star anise until fragrant. Add in oyster sauce and stir until fragrant. Add in drained glutinous rice and stir well.
2. Add five spice powder, stir fry until fragrant. Lastly add in soy sauce, sugar and salt, stir evenly. Set aside.
Wrapping and cooking zong zi
1. Wrap and tie Zong Zi following this recording, fill the cone with a layer of glutinous rice. Add other filings, top with split mung beans and cover with another layer of glutinous rice.
2. Base a big pot few bamboo leaves (I used the torn ones), add in 2 tsp of sea salt and water (3 cm from the dumpling surface after they’re placed in), bring to boil over high heat. Add zong zi, bring to boil again. Switch to medium heat, continue boiling for 2hrs.
3. Remove one to check if the rice has been thoroughly cooked at the end of 2hrs, if not cooked, continue boiling for another 15, 30mins (adjust your time accordingly based on your observation of the 1st zong zi).
4. Hang the zong zi in a well ventilated place in order to allow the water to evaporate.
In photograph, these are what we used.
Wrapping them take some skills and will improve with practice.
Boiling them take some time.
Hang to let the water to evaporate.
Viola, home made zong zi adjusted to our taste.
Duan Wu is almost 2 weeks ago, this recipe came a little late for this year, but who said you can only eat zong zi during Duan Wu? As long as you can find the leaves, this can be made any time of the year and adjusted to your own preference.
I’d made some according to the girls’ liking as well. Zara didn’t want the salted egg yolk, so I made a few without yolk for her, and double the amount of mushroom. Zaria didn’t want anything except a slice of mushroom.
Zaria asked as well, “Why do you make the dumpling using the same ingredients every year? Why can’t you change? Like putting sausages or bacon (what she likes), and instead of green beans, why not put baked beans?” Maybe I’ll accommodate her next time (but not baked beans zong zi though, that’s just too YUCKS).