recipe: zongzi (chinese rice dumplings)

Zongzi (also called Chinese sticky rice dumplings) are a traditional Chinese dish, consisting of various fillings wrapped in glutinous rice and cooked in bamboo leaves. As a native Texan, here’s my best analogy: think tamales, except the Chinese version.

There’s no “official” filling for zongzi — you can literally put whatever you want, from taro, pork, chicken, Chinese sausage, shiitake mushrooms and more. We’ve made ones with sugar, dates and peanuts for a sweeter version (more commonly seen in Northern China), but the one here is one that our grandparents from Guangzhou (Southern China) has always made for us. Filled with pork belly, salted duck eggs, and mung beans, these are the ones I’ve come to enjoy the most. Unlike the more common zongzi shapes, we actually make rectangular ones as opposed to the triangular ones.


Zongzi have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandparents used to tell me stories of Duanwu Jie (Dragon Boat Festival), where people would — as the name suggests — race in dragon shaped boats, and then eat zongzi.

Legend has it that zongzi originated about 2500 years ago, when a well-loved minister named Qu Yuan was banished by the king after he was slandered by officials who were jealous of him. Disappointed in his country, he drowned himself in a river. The people of his county were in despair when they found out, and tried to recover his body. They were unsuccessful in finding his body, so to prevent fish and other animals in the river from eating Qu Yuan’s body, they threw a bunch of zongzi into the river so the animals would eat that instead.

Ok, yeah, that’s a bit morbid. But fortunately for us, today we remember him by just eating the zongzi ourselves and race in dragon boats.

Ingredients (& Materials)

For Fillings

4 cups mung beans
4 cups glutinous rice
1.5 lb pork belly
1 tbs oyster sauce
2 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs cooking wine
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt (and save another 2 tsp for later)
4 tbs oil
1 package of salted duck egg yolks

For Wrapping

1 package of bamboo leaves
Twine (or any kind of thick string)

Recipe

To do the night before

  1. Place the mung beans into a large bowl, and completely submerge in water.
  2. Place the glutinous rice also into a large bowl, and completely submerge in water.
  3. Slice pork belly along the shorter side, cutting into pieces that are approximately as thick as two fingers.
  4. Add oyster sauce, soy suace, cooking wine, sugar and the first 1/2 tsp of salt to the pork belly.
  5. Marinate pork belly in the fridge overnight.
  6. Leave the two bowls (or mung beans and glutinous rice) overnight as well (room temperature).

To do one hour before starting wrapping

  1. Remove bamboo leaves from package, and place into a large, deep pan.
  2. Submerge the leaves completely in water.
  3. Bring water to a boil, and then immediately turn off heat.
  4. Leave the leaves for an hour, in order to soften them up for wrapping.
  5. Drain the mung beans and glutinous rice.
  6. Add 2 tbs oil and 1 tsp of salt into each bowl, and mix well.

Wrapping

See following video and images for visual instructions.

  1. Take four leaves, and cut off the sharp tips. Place them side by side, slightly overlapping (Image 1).
  2. Take a large spoonful and add a layer of glutinous rice, spreading it onto the bamboo leaves (Image 2).
  3. Take a large spoonful and add a layer of mung beans (Image 3).
  4. Then, place four pieces of pork belly and one salted duck egg yolk onto the beans (Image 4).
  5. Finally, cover with some more glutinous rice and mung beans, without overfilling.

For the wrapping process, please refer to the videos below to follow along easier.

  1. Fold in the outer two leaves in towards the center, completely covering the center.
  2. Then, fold up the bottom section towards the center.
  3. Repeat with the top section, folding towards center. You should now have a rectangle-shaped zongzi.
  4. Cut a long piece of twine, and wrap around the center of the zongzi and tie into a knot. There should be still a decent amount of twine hanging from the knot.
  5. Repeat tying four more times, evenly spaced width-wise on the zongzi.
  6. Using the leftover twine hanging from the knot, tie into braids.
  7. Then, with the five braided strings, knot together again to form one large braid. This will make it easier for you to remove them, when it’s hot out the pressure cooker (yes, it’s also part aesthetics, so you can definitely change things up a bit here if that’s too complicated!)
Video showing only the wrapping process for a rectangular, southern chinese style zongzi.

Video demonstrating full process for filling, wrapping and tying zongzi.

Cooking

  1. Place zongzi into a pressure cooker (I’d suggest filling the pressure cooker about 3/4 of the way).
  2. Add water, so that the zongzi are submerged.
  3. Cook at high pressure for 70 minutes.
  4. Leave to cool until it’s at room temperature, and then you can release the gas (about 45 minutes later)
  5. Remove from pressure cooker!

You can eat immediately while warm, or save in fridge (or freezer). If you want to reheat them, I’d recommend slicing it along the short side, and then frying in a bit of oil until the sides are a crispy golden. 

Enjoy! 

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