Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Vegetarian Nyonya Mushroom Glutinous Rice Dumpling Bak Chang / ZongZi 素娘惹粽

I'm back from my holidays and 端午節快乐! (meaning Happy Dragon Boat Festival in Chinese).

Today, I'm going to share a vegetarian Nyonya glutinous rice dumpling bak chang (zong zi) 素娘惹粽 recipe that I have cooked for myself. Why vegetarian?

Since birth, I have living with my grandma who became a full-on vegetarian when I was ten. At that time, my grandma didn't stop me from eating meat but I just went along enjoying all sorts of vegetarian food with her. Unfortunately, a few years after she started her vegetarian diets, her health started to deteriorate. Not because of her meatless diets but because she hurt her back and couldn't walk well with a correct posture anymore. Since then, she continued her vegetarian diets but stopped creating beautiful gourmet food in her kitchen... Very sad!

I love my grandma. And I was thinking of her when I made these vegetarian mushroom nyonya bak chang. Grandma and I love eating bak chang especially the nyonya ones and I always remember how she used to sing and dance while cooking bak chang for me in her kitchen. It is one of my most lovely reminiscence of her.

vegetarian mushroom nyonya bak chang
My Vegetarian Mushroom Nyonya Bak Chang

My grandma is very illiterate and can't even write 1, 2 and 3!!! And I'm always amazed with how she created her food without any written recipes. I know... Everything that she cooked is based on her experiences and dedications as I can taste her food with so much fine details and love!

During all these years of cooking, I have been learning to cook like my grandma and even my aunties (my grandma's daughters) noticed and mentioned to me that I'm more becoming like ah ma... Me = my grandma? Hmmm... I wish! Cos it would be my honour!!!

Alright... Let's move on from my "grandma's story" to my bak chang's story... LOL!

If you Google for "vegetarian nyonya bak chang recipe", I'm sure that you will find heaps!!! So which is the best vegetarian Nyonya bak chang recipe? I can't point out a specific recipe because all recipes that I found are so different and it depends on individual's preference for a specific taste in their dumplings. To me, my best Nyonya chang must have a signature sweet taste from candied winter melon, aromatic fragrances from coriander powder, five-spice powder and pandan leaves. Most essentially, they have to be made with sweet robustic flavours.

To substitute the meat in these dumplings, I have noticed that many recipes uses mock meat to replace the real meat in their vegetarian dumplings but I like to have mine to be all natural with no mock stuff! Hence, I'm making mine with all mushrooms... a mixture of fresh shiitake and dried shiitake for a mixture of meaty texture. Although my husband said that all mushrooms taste like mushrooms with no differences because they are not meat, I said quietly 
to myself that I can definitely taste the difference and prefer to move on with my preference :p

vegetarian mushroom nyonya bak chang
Hey gorgeous ba chang!
Happy that I have made these flavoursome vegetarian mushroom Nyonya chang.
vegetarian mushroom nyonya bak chang
Love its signature sweet taste with lovely coriander powder and pandan fragrance!
No meat and yet so like Nyonya chang and so yummy too!
Here's my my quick one-minute video showing how I made these vegetarian mushroom nyonya chang.

Plus a few essential things to mention...

1) For an easier digestion, I'm using basmati rice and glutinous rice in 1:1 ratio to make my bak chang. It's a fabulous idea because we got to enjoy our glutinous rice that is sticky and yummy and didn't have any problem digesting our bak chang later! However, the use of mixture of rice is totally optional and it is really up to you if you prefer to use a mixture of basmati rice and glutinous rice or not.

2) If you choose to use a mixture of glutinous rice and basmati rice to cook your dumplings, please do not keep the dumplings in the freezer because cooked basmati rice don't freeze very well. If you want to freeze any excess dumplings, you will have to make your dumplings with 100% glutinous rice and NO basmati rice. Then, it will be ok to keep your dumplings in a freezer up to a month.

3) Traditionally, the rice of nyonya chang should be partially coloured with blue pea flower extract. Unfortunately, blue pea flowers are not easily available in Melbourne especially winter! Although I used to grow the flowers (seeds from tropical Queensland) in my garden years ago, they did grew well but only during summer and so I don't grow them anymore. Due to this reason, we prefer not to colour our nyonya chang rice with any artificial blue colour.

4) I have noticed the dark pigmentation of the mushrooms in the filling can darken the colour of the rice and also sometimes on a particular side depending on how the dumplings are positioned into the boiling pot during cooking. And so please don't be alarm if the rice is a little darker than usual.

5) I must admit that tying the dumplings can be quite fiddly and I have been extra kiasu (meaning afraid to lose in Singlish) tying all angles of my dumplings! Paiseh lah... (meaning bashful in Singlish and Hokkien language) I hope that I can be excused for doing that :p

Here's the recipe for my small family.
You can double or triple this amount if you wish to make more dumplings.

Make 12 medium dumplings

For the rice:
300g long grain glutinous rice, washed
300g long grain basmati rice, washed - you can replace this rice with all glutinous rice if you prefer the traditional all sticky ba chang and want to freeze your dumplings.
blue colouring from blue pea flower water* or blue food colouring to colour the rice, optional

*To extract blue pea flower water. Use mortar and pestle to pound about 15-16 washed and dried flowers with 2 tbsp water. Squeeze the juice from the macerated flower as much as possible. Unfortunately, blue pea flowers are not easily available in Melbourne and we prefer not to colour our rice with artificial colouring.

To colour the rice, sprinkle blue pea flower water or a few drop blue food colouring onto 1/5 of the thoroughly drained glutinous rice.

To season the rice:
1 tsp shallot oil - see below ***
1 tsp five-spice powder
1/2 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp salt

Soak glutinous rice in water for at least 2 hrs at room temperature, then drained thoroughly. Tip: To preserve the fragrance of the rice, I have seen many recipes that say NOT to soak glutinous rice for dumpling overnight and so I did exactly what I was told.

While the rice is soaking, you can prepare the rest of the ingredients, combine seasonings for the rice and the filling and cook the filling.

For the filling:
5 shallots**, peeled, finely sliced
adequate cooking oil to deep fry shallots until golden brown and crispy

2 tbsp shallot oil** - see below ***
2 tbsp shallot mince**
1 tsp garlic mince**
1 tsp finely grated ginger
200g fresh shiitake mushrooms, cut into 2 cm pieces
15-18 dried shiitake mushroom, about 70g soaked in hot boiling water to soften, squeezed to remove any excess water and cut into 2 cm pieces
100g candied winter melon, coarsely chopped

To season the filling:
1 tsp seasme oil
1 tsp five-spice powder
2 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1/4 tsp salt

** If you are following a strict religious vegetarian diet that can't eat shallot and garlic, you can 1) replace 5 shallots with 1 cup finely cut ginger strips 2) replace shallot oil with any vegetable oil 3) omit the addition of shallot and garlic mince 4) use 1/2 tbsp finely grated ginger instead of just 1 tsp finely grated ginger to cook your filling.

For wrapping:
24 dried bamboo leaves or more if required, soaked until soft, cleaned with water - I used the vaccum packed kind and so I don't have to soak mine in water.
pandan leaves, cut into ten 3 cm small rectangle pieces
cooking twine or any heat resistance strings

To cook the filling:

Fry sliced shallot (or ginger strips) in adequate cooking oil until golden and crispy and drain off any excess from the shallot crisps by placing them on a paper towel. Reserve the shallot (or ginger) oil *** for subsequent cooking and seasoning.

Heat shallot (or ginger) oil with medium heat in a wok and sauté shallot mince, garlic mince and grated ginger for 1-2 mins or until fragrant. Add both mushrooms and fry briefly for about 1-2 min or until fragrant. Combine and add filling seasoning. Cook and stir for 2-3 mins until all are well coated with the seasonings. Remove from heat and stir in winter melon and shallot (or ginger) crisps.

To wrap and cook the dumplings:
Take 2 bamboo leaves and overlap them together and fold in the middle to form a cone.

Place 1-2 tbsp glutinous rice (plus 1/2 tbsp coloured rice) into the cone. Use a spoon to press rice in the middle to pack it tightly and at the same time, form a little depression in the middle. Fill the depression with 2 tbsp filling. Then top with another 1-2 tbsp glutinous rice (plus 1/2 tbsp coloured rice). Add a piece of pandan leaf on the rice and fold the bamboo leaf down to cover the rice and wrap the excess leaf around to form a 3D triangular shape.

Use cooking twine or strings to tie the dumpling in its middle to secure the shape of the dumpling but not too loose so that the dumpling won't break apart and not too tight as it will prevent the dumpling from swelling during cooking. Difficult? I must admit that it took me a while to get use to tying my dumplings. I must admit too that I have been kiasu tying all angles of my dumplings! Repeat this wrapping step to wrap and tie the rest of the dumplings.

Boil dumplings in a large pot of water for about 1 1/2 hrs or cook in a pressure cooker with high pressure for about 30-40 mins or until the dumplings are thoroughly cooked. If you are using a pressure cooker to cook your dumpling, it is recommended to leave the dumpling to de-pressurize slightly in the cooker for about 15 mins when the cooker is switched off.

Remove dumplings from hot water and place them on a rack or hang them up to drip dry. Serve and enjoy.

If you use a mixture of glutinous rice and basmati rice to cook your dumplings, please do not keep the dumplings in the freezer. If your dumplings are made with glutinous rice with NO basmati rice, you can keep your dumplings in a freezer up to a month. To defrost, steam or microwave dumplings until they are thoroughly warm.

I hope that you will like my recipe. Happy Cooking.
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  1. Hi Zoe, love the recipe! and always a big fan of your blog! Where do you normally get your asian groceries? More specifically, where did you get the bamboo leaves?? Thanks!

    1. Hi Yan, I go to many Asian groceries shops in Melbourne and its suburbs and can't tell you the specific ones that I shopped. You should be able to get the bamboo leaves from shops that own by Chinese from China especially those at Boxhill. Cheers.

    2. Thank you! I'll check it out!