Have you ever heard about the Chinese Lantern Festival? I’m sure you have seen a video or movie where many Chinese people are releasing lanterns at night. This is the Chinese Lantern Festival. Do you know why we have this festival? Do you know how you can celebrate it at home with your family?
Since the Chinese Lantern Festival is not a public holiday, it is hard to make it an important, special holiday. When I was growing up, I didn’t really have a chance to go to any events for this festival because I still had to attend school that day and the next. However, I heard and watched TV about 元宵節. As I learned more and more about it, I discovered that this is a beautiful festival filled with Chinese culture and traditions that I would like to share with all of you.
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When and Why do we celebrate it?
The Chinese Lantern Festival is the last day of the Chinese New Year. After celebrating the New Year for 15 days, the Chinese believe that ending the festival with the best celebration will ensure a great new year. On this day, there are lion and dragon dances, lantern lighting and watching, lantern riddles, and sweet rice dumplings. After that, the Chinese take down all of the New Year decorations because the New Year celebration has come to an end.
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My Favorite Part
As I mentioned, I didn’t get to celebrate the Lantern Festival when I was growing up because it was not a very big thing in Hong Kong or for my family, and we still had school and work on this day. However, my mom always made us sweet rice dumplings after dinner, and the best part was making them with her. I enjoyed kneading the dough, shaping it into balls, and watching them cook.
Sweet rice dumplings actually have a special meaning: 團團圓圓 (团团圆圆 / tuán tuán yuán yuan). The dumplings are round-shaped which symbolizes wholeness, togetherness, and reunion, so they express our hope that our family will be able to gather together as a complete family. (This is also why Chinese families prefer to sit at round tables when they eat.)
And guess what? You can make sweet rice dumplings with your kids too. These dumplings are super easy to make. Today, I want to share my homemade recipe with you. You should have no problem making this recipe because your local store probably carries all of the ingredients.
Recipe for Sweet Rice Dumplings with Peanut Filling 花生湯圓/花生汤圆
Prep time: 20 minutes Cook time: 20 minutes Total Time: 40 minutes Yield: 12 dumplings
2 cups Chinese glutinous rice flour (糯米粉 / 糯米粉/ nùo mǐ fěn/ Mochiko)
About 1 cup water
3 Tbsp. chunky peanut butter
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 cups water
1/2 cup light brown sugar (or 1 stick of palm sugar which is what I prefer)
2 slices of ginger, peeled
1. Mix the filling ingredients together in a small bowl, and mix until well combined.
2. Put the rice flour into a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the water as you mix. Add just enough water so that it forms a smooth paste that does not stick to your hands or the side of the bowl. If the dough gets too wet/sticky, add a little more flour to get the right consistency. If it is dry and crumbly, add more water.
3. Next, roll the dough into a long snake and cut it into 12 equal pieces.
4. Dust your hands with a little rice flour, and then working with one ball at a time, flatten the dough into an oval. Place a ball of filling into the middle of the flattened dough – if it looks like too much filling, remove some (see note below). Fold the edges together to seal the dumpling, and gently roll it into a ball using both palms. Make sure the peanut filling is completely covered by the dough. Set aside on a lightly rice-floured surface and cover with plastic wrap.
5. Next, prepare the ginger syrup by bringing 3 cups of water to a boil. Add the ginger and simmer for 10-15 minutes over medium-low heat. If you want a stronger ginger flavor, you can boil it for longer until you get the flavor you like. Remove the ginger slices. Add the sugar and boil for another 5 minutes. Lower heat and reduce the syrup to about 4 cups of water. Add more sugar to taste.
6. Bring the syrup back up to a boil. Drop the dumplings into the boiling ginger syrup. Gently stir the dumplings to prevent them from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Once the dumplings float to the top of the syrup, transfer them to serving bowls and top with some syrup. Serve immediately.
- You will be tempted to put a lot of filling into each dumpling, but DON’T DO IT! If you put too much filling inside, you risk having the dumplings break and leak the filling when you cook them.
- If you don’t want to use the peanut filling, you can try different fillings: black sesame and red bean are two other popular fillings.
- If you can’t finish eating all of them at once, the uncooked dumplings can be frozen for later. Put them on a plate wrapped in plastic wrap and freeze until they are hard. Transfer them to a freezer bag to store. When you are ready to eat them, make your ginger syrup and add the dumplings to the boiling syrup. Bring the syrup back to a boil and cook until the dumplings float to the top.
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Here’s My Family Making Sweet Rice Dumplings
My kids love cooking with me, but it’s hard to have them assist me when I am cooking Chinese dishes because the dishes often involve a lot of cutting, and deep-frying or stir-frying right next to the stove. However, sweet rice dumplings are a traditional Chinese food that is very kid-friendly.
My kids can shape the dumpling-like they are making playdough balls (which they are already good at). You can also make it more fun for your kids by putting in whatever filling your family likes, or you could add food coloring the dough. Since these are also so fun and easy to make, you’ll probably want to make them more often than just at Chinese New Year. In fact, I made this a lot when I lived in Utah and felt homesick because they are so simple to make.
I was pretty sure my 5-year-old could make these, but I was impressed by how well my 3-year-old did too! My toddler also enjoyed making dumplings with us. It was fun to make these with my kids, and this will always be a precious memory of our family gathering around our round table to enjoy this Chinese tradition.
We even love making them with our grandparents. What are great family cultural activity!
I hope you also enjoy making sweet rice dumplings with your family and spending quality time together.
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