Chinese Tamales (Zongzi 咸肉粽)


Chinese Tamales

One of the famous festivals in China is Dragon Boat festival (端午節).  This festival commemorates the patriotic poet Qu Yuan (屈原) who died on the fifth day of the fifth month in the Chinese lunar calendar.  Like other Chinese festivals, there is also a legend behind it.  You can read the long story online and learn why Dragon boat racing and eating Zongzi have become the central customs of the festival.

This year, the festival falls on June 12 and I can see a lot of Chinese people at the market getting ingredients to make Zongzi.  Zongzi (also called Zong) has different shapes and various fillings and the main ingredients are sticky rice,  green beans, fresh meat and salted duck egg yolk.  People also added red beans, dried shrimp, peanuts, chestnuts, Chinese sausages, shiitake mushrooms etc.   I have made these Zongzi for many years (only once a year though) and I’m sharing my mom’s secret recipe today.  Every year she makes a lot and gives them to friends, relatives and neighbours.  Her Zongzi were fabulous and never disappointed anyone!

Ingredients (makes 20 Zongzi):

5 lbs
2 bags  (14oz each)
10
2 pounds
11 oz
7 oz
1 bag (14oz)
20
3 ½ Tbsp
6 Tbsp
Sticky rice (Glutinous rice) (糯米)
Peeled split mung bean (去皮開邊綠豆)
Salted Duck Egg Yolks (halved) (咸蛋黃)
Pork belly
Peanuts
Miniature dried shrimp
Bamboo leaves (荷葉)
Long strings
Salt
Vegetable oil

Marinate for Meat:

1 teaspoon
2-3
1 Tbsp
1 Tbsp
4 Tbsp
Salt
Red fermented beancurd (南乳)
Light soy sauce
Water
Five spice powder (五香粉)

Directions:

  1. Cut pork belly into approx. 1.5” cubes and marinate with 1 teaspoon of salt for 20 minutes.  In a small bowl, mash the red fermented beancurd and add light soy sauce and water, mix well.
  2. Heat the wok with 1 tablespoon of oil and stir in the beancurd mixture, add pork belly and stir fry until the meat gets a nice coat of the sauce  – about 5 minutes (the meat is not completely cooked).  When the meat is cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.
  3. After the meat is marinated overnight, take it out from the fridge, roughly rinse off the beancurd mixture and pad dry.  Sprinkle about 4 tablespoons of five spice powder and mix well.  The pork pieces should have a nice coat of powder, add more if necessary.  Set aside.
  4. Soak rice in water for 4 hours, drain.
  5. Add 3 ½ tablespoons of salt and 6 tablespoons of oil to the rice, mix well (taste the rice, add more salt if necessary).  Set aside.
  6. Soak Green mung beans in water for 2 hours, drain and set aside.
  7. Wash dried shrimp, pad dry and set aside.
  8. Boil a pot of hot water and put the bamboo leaves in, soak for 20 minutes.  Wash each one with a brush.
  9. Wrap ingredients with bamboo leaves (see instructions below).  Boil Zongzi for 4 hours.

These are all the ingredients you will need:

Zongzi ingredients

If leaves are very dirty, you may want to use a clean brush to brush each leaf.  After washing and boiling the bamboo leaves, choose two large ones, make a small cross with the leaves.   Bend and twist the leaves in the center to make a funnel shape (see pictures below).

How to wrap Zongzi

Fill the funnel shape with a few tablespoons of sticky rice, top with a sprinkling of mung beans.  Add meat, egg yolk, peanuts, dried shrimp, etc.  Now the ingredients are heavy enough to hold the funnel shape, add one leaf to each side and top with more sticky rice, mung beans, peanuts and dried shrimp (the meat and the egg yolk should be in the middle part of the Zongzi).   The mound should be generous but not overflowing.  Carefully fold the sides in over the mixture (folding both sides first), then fold the bottom over.  (see pictures below)

How to wrap Zongzi

Now you fold the top leaf flap downwards to make a package.  Take a long string and wrap the Zongzi firmly.

Zongzi

Place Zongzi in a large pot and fill the pot with water (water should cover all Zongzi), cover and bring it to a boil.  Reduce heat and cook for four hours.  You will need to check the water level, add water as necessary.

Note:

  • The pork belly should have some fat, do not trim the fat.  The meat will be too dry if it’s all lean.
  • I left one ingredient out (紅絲線 aka 紅藍) which is Chinese herb.  I just couldn’t find it in the States, probably sold in Asia only.
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6 thoughts on “Chinese Tamales (Zongzi 咸肉粽)

  1. Where can I get sticky rice? This Zongzi is very unique, I have never tasted but after reading through your narration and seeing the list of ingredients, It sounds very delicious. Do some restaurants serve it or it’s only made on June 12, during the dragon boat festival? thanks for sharing. Have a pleasant day.

  2. Hi Liz: Sticky rice is glutinous rice, also called sweet rice. Japanese people use it to make Sushi. You can buy it at a regular supermarket. If you ever get a chance to go to a Chinese dim sum restaurant, they have similar items on the menu too and it’s served all year round. Thank you for your comment and have a nice weekend!

    • I have had sushi several times, my daughter loves it. She’s always at the “all you can eat sushi”, with her friends. I shall see if the sticky rice available in my regular supermarket. I ate it once, on a trip to Malawi and I really loved it. I must find a chinese dim sum restaurant and try. Thanks for visiting my blog. Nice weekend to you too!

  3. My boyfriend and I have had some gentle disagreement on reheating the zongzi we received from his boss recently. My first instinct was to steam them whole (since we don’t have a microwave) then pop them open and dig in, but he said when he doesn’t do it in the microwave, his boss removes the leaves, cooks them in a skillet, and slices them up. What do you recommend?

  4. Hi Anna: To reheat the Zongzi, you can simply steam it. However, I will suggest removing the leaves first and slice the Zongzi into 3 or 4 equal portions (if the zongzi is big). If it’s quite small, just cut it into half and steam it. Besides the steaming method, you can reheat the zongzi by cooking it in a pot of boiling water, make sure water will cover the whole zongzi. This method takes a longer time as the middle part of the zongzi take a while to get hot.

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