With my recent (fairly successful) completion of "Pseudo Tai-Tai - Basic 8 Course", I decided to take my studies further with "Resplendent Tai Tai - A Full Banquet". After very thorough and extensive research, I finally settled on nyonya zhong and nyonya sambal zhong for my final thesis. Part of the charm of the nyonya dumpling for me is the lovely mix of blue and white rice. Coloured with butterfly pea flowers, the rice turns into a pale shade of the finest Wedgewood. I gathered as many as I could find in the garden. This is what I will miss living in my family home when I move into my tiny concrete flat. No more being able to pluck kaffir lime, chillies, pandan and butterfly pea flowers from the garden anymore. Somehow growing aloe vera on the balcony just isn't the same.
I am still trying to get use to cooking with my newly acquired pressure cooker. Morbid thoughts of the cooker exploding in my face flashes across my mind a lot! I cooked the zhong for, on and off, about an hour. This included time spent off the stove, just waiting for the pressure to ease before putting it back on the stove. The rice was perfectly cooked - glossy and gooey. The colour didn’t “pop” which makes you wonder how much artificial colouring goes into the variety you get commercially. I used 12 flowers boiled and reduced in 100ml of water and yet it barely even shows. It was rather anaemic looking but I was just so chuffed with it that I didn’t really care about the colour. My mum looked at them suspiciously and said “How delicate” which is her way of saying “So damn small, where’s the filling?” I reassured her I made a couple of big ones filled to the brim with filling just for her. I managed to get 32 small zhongs from this recipe. I think this size is perfect. Zhongs should be delicate, barely a mouthful, dainty – did I not just describe the ideal Chinese wife? Hmm, maybe thats why some Chinese men actually find Nigella sexy despite her Rubenesque frame. She does love to harp on about how her mouth can "accomodate".
I should’ve started with nyonya zhong as it is so much easier than making cao mai zhong. I think it only took three hours in total. I’m also a lot more blasé about the wrapping. Its like folding flour into egg whites, you can’t approach it with too much caution, somehow you end up jinxing it if you do. You just have to tackle head on. I didn't even double-tie them this time. I realise its not the end of the world if some break but none did! Yay!
Most of my family members think my zhongs are “too healthy”. I can’t bring myself to leave all that fat on (Although this time I did cut little cubes of fat which was confusing because I couldn't tell them apart from the winter melon). On the other hand, all those who usually like zhong are singing praises. Like me, they find a lot of zhongs too heavy and rich. This batch of nyonya zhongs was well received but everyone agreed that the flavours could be more intense. More sweet, more salty! I agree with the salt part but I think its bloody sweet enough! I even added more candied winter melon than the recipe suggested. Next time I might chop them a lot coarser so you can taste it but this was gorgeous as all the small pieces of winter melon had caramelized and fused with the garlic and shallots into one beautiful, sticky and tantalizing mess! I didn't get around to starting on the nyonya sambal zhong, maybe I'll just make the filling tomorrow and wrap it up over the weekend. Below is an adapted recipe from One Publisher’s Rice Dumpling cookbook:
- 12 shallots & 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- 600g pork belly, cubed
- 1kg glutinous rice, rinsed and soaked for 1-2 hours, leave to dry
- 200g candied wintermelon (chopped coarsely)
- 15 – 20 butterfly pea flowers (boiled in 100ml water, reduced slightly)
- 4-5 tbls oil, 2tsp salt
- Seasoning, 3 tbls ground coriander, 2tsp white pepper, 1 tbls dark soy sauce, 2-3 tsp of salt
- 2-3 pandan leaves cut into small squares
- Mix 300g of glutinous rice with butterfly pea. Marinate the rest of the rice with 4 tablespoon of oil, 1 teaspoon white pepper and 1 teaspoon salt.
- Heat oil in a wok and stir-fry garlic and shallots until fragrant. Add pork belly and candied winter melon. Pour in the seasoning and fry a further 10 minutes. Leave aside.
- Place 1 teaspoon of glutinous rice followed by a generous tablespoon of filling, then top with half tablespoon of blue rice and 1 tablespoon of rice. Place a square of pandan leaf over just before folding.
- Put a little oil and salt into water before boiling for 50-60 minutes in a pressure cooker