Saturday, February 9, 2008

"eight treasures" rice pudding

The Chinese New Year was this past week, and I was with my parents, celebrating in the only way we know... with gluttonous amounts of food! There are a few traditional dishes we eat on New Year's day that are also served in every household all over Northern China. These include:

pork dumplings (always boiled, not pan-fried)
steamed fish with ginger and scallion (for luck in the new year)
cold noodle salad (for longevity)
Northern Chinese style chopped salad
stewed red dates
steamed "pearl" balls (minced pork meatballs covered in sticky rice)
Ba Bao Fan (eight treasures rice pudding)

There's a story or a meaning to every dish that's served on New Year's. Most are meant to bring fortune and happiness, much luck and many sons. Eight is an auspicious number in Chinese culture (it rhymes with the Chinese word for wealth). Congee is often served mixed with eight different ingredients, as well as teas, tapioca soups, and rice pudding. These eight ingredients can be a medley of all sorts of dried fruits and nuts, but there are the traditional selections, all meant to balance the yin and the yang in the body when eaten. These include:

dried lily bulbs
red dates (jujubes)
dried longan (a fruit)
lotus seeds
red beans
mung beans
goji berries

Of course, some of these many not be easily obtainable, so other ingredients can be substituted like dried cranberries, apricots, raisins, and pecans.

My mom makes this version of sticky rice pudding, with layer after layer of rice and sweet nuts and fruits. No matter how many ingredients you use, this dish will always be called Eight Treasures Rice Pudding, so don't fret if you can't find all the traditional dried goods. This dish is even better the second day, warmed up in the microwave, sticky and gooey for a wholesome breakfast.

Mom's "Eight Treasures" Rice Pudding

2 cups glutinous rice
3 Tbsp honey
vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl

1 can red bean paste
1/2 cup red dates, soaked overnight, chopped into bitesize pieces
1/2 cup toasted pinenuts
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup raisins
1/3 cup goji berries, soaked overnight

**you can use any medley of dried fruits and nuts of your choice (see list above)

1. Steam the glutinous rice in a rice maker with 2 cups of water. Once done, let cool, and mix in the honey. Set aside.

2. Grease with the oil a deep ceramic bowl, or a pudding mold, if you have one. Sprinkle a handful of dried nuts and fruits at the bottom, and cover with a thin layer of the cooled rice. Smear on a layer of red bean paste, and top with another handful of nuts and fruits. Repeat the process until the bowl is full.

3. Cover with a plate and refrigerate for up to 2 hours. Set another heavy bowl on top to press together the layers of rice. When ready, invert the rice out onto a serving plate. Serve with sugar or honey.


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