May 15, 2010

Savory Rice Dumplings/Nyonya Bak Chang

Rice Dumpling festival or Dragon Boat festival falls on the 5th day of the 5th month on the Chinese lunar calendar. During the Chu dynasty (楚), there was a Chinese patriotic poet by the name of Qu Yuan who served as a minister for the emperor and was well loved by the villagers. However, some court officials were jealous of his popularity and his abilities, they influenced and convinced the emperor to dismiss and exiled him. Feeling desolated and disheartened, of the injustice and corruption he committed suicide by drowning himself in the Mi River. When the villagers found out about his death, they rowed their boats out to the river to look for his body. When they failed to find his body, they started making a racket of noises by beating their drums in hope to scare the fishes and sea creatures away from eating Qu Yuan's body. Yet, some villagers made rice dumplings to throw into the water believing that the fishes and sea creatures will be distracted and feast on the rice dumplings instead of his body. Thus, the Duan Wu festival, or Dragon Boat festival is to commemorates the life and death of this historic figure, Qu Yuan.
Rice Dumplings (Bak Chang in Hokkien) is a four-triangular faces (tetrahedron) of sticky glutinous rice stuffed with savory fillings, wrapped with bamboo leaves and then cook in boiling water. There are many variations to this dumpling. The traditional one has stuffing of pork, beans, salted egg yolks, and chestnuts. I am making the Peranakan, or Nyonya version, that has a salty and sweet savory filling. The bluish color is extracted from the Butterfly Pea flower (Bunga Telang). If this is not available, substitute with blue food coloring instead.
(Cantonese version dumpling)
500 gms. glutinous rice, washed and soaked overnight
2 Tbsps. cooking oil
1 Tbsp. Bunga Telang juice, or few drops of blue food coloring)
1 packet dried bamboo leaves, presoaked in boiling water until soft
hemp strings, presoaked
3 pandan leaves, cut into 2 inchs lengths
2 Tbsp. peppercorns
3 tsp. coriander powder
2 tsp. garlic powder
10 gms. cekur (zedoary) ginger root (substitute with 2 tsp. Sar ginger powder)
1 Tbsp. cooking oil
400 gms. chicken, cut into small cubes
100 gms. candied winter melon, chopped finely (optional)
200 gms. roasted peanuts, grinded finely
150 gms. dried shrimps, presoaked and chopped finely
5-6 dried mushrooms, presoaked and chopped finely
5 medium-sized shallots, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp. sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1. Rinse glutinous rice until water runs clear, picked out stones and dirt in the rice. Remove about 200 gms of rice into a bowl and add blue coloring, one tablespoon of oil and a pinch of salt. Mix well to incorporate coloring into rice. To the remaining of the rice, add one tablespoon of oil, salt and mix well.
2. Ground all the spices ingredients finely.  In a deep pan or wok, heat oil and fry garlic and shallots until soft. Add in mushrooms and dried shrimps and fry until fragrant. Then add the chicken meat and seasonings and stir until cooked. Season to taste with salt and/or sugar. Add in the candied melons, if using and fry for another minute. Remove from heat and let cool. When completely cool, add in the peanuts.
3. Wipe the bamboo leaves dry and drained. Arrange all the ingredients on the table. How to make a string cradle: Cut strings of 3 feet lengths. Put them together and tie a knot with a loop at the end of the strings or tie it over a chair. The loose ends will be use for tying the wrapped dumplings.
4. How to wrap a dumpling: Overlap 2 slices of leaves with the sharp edges in the middle and fold into a cone from about ¾ of the leaf, making sure there is no hole at the bottom of the cone. Fill cone with 1 heaped spoon of blue colored rice, 1 tablespoon of white rice, followed by 2 tablespoons of filling and another tablespoon of the white rice. Press the ingredients with a spoon to compact it. Place a piece of pandan leaf on the side. Using the right fingers, fold the loose ends of the bamboo leaves over the rice to cover completely. Wrap dumpling into a pyramid shape before securing with strings, making sure the rice is consealed and compact. Repeat this method with the remaining ingredients until you have dumplings tied into a bunch on the string cradle.
4. Bring a big pot of water to a boil, making sure the water is enough to cover the dumplings. Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water. Put in the tied dumplings and cook over high heat for 1-1½ hours, until the rice is completely cooked or until the rice shapes has dissappeared and form into a smooth triangle shaped dumpling. Remove, drain and serve warm.
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