Tang Yuan in Ginger-Star Anise Brown Sugar Syrup, for Dongzhi Festival

Today is the Winter Solstice, and in Taiwan and other Chinese and other East and Southeast Asian countries marks the The Dōngzhì Festival or Winter Solstice Festival, celebrated by the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese. One of the traditional foods eaten are tang yuan (in Mandarin; in Taiwan it’s pronounced nyee-ah), round balls of glutinous (sticky) rice which represent reunion, or getting together. While I won’t be able to have a reunion with my parents in Taiwan this year, I am making tang yuan. These can be made sweet or savory, filled or plain. Sweet fillings can include black sesame, peanut, or red bean paste, and savory fillings are similar to other dumplings, including meat and mushrooms. My family traditionally eats them plain, cooked in a sugar syrup.


I’m sharing a recipe for two sweet versions– one in a brown sugar syrup spiced with star anise and ginger, and one poached in that syrup but served without it, instead topped with a dusting of peanut powder. I’ve used PBFit peanut powder which works perfectly here, but you can also crush your own peanuts.

Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls) in Ginger-Star Anise Brown Sugar Syrup

Ingredients

For the syrup:
2 cups water
¼ cup brown sugar
Few slices of fresh ginger
3 star anise pod

For the glutinous rice balls:
1 cup sweet rice flour
½ cup water

For peanut variant:
Peanuts crusted into a fine powder, or PB Fit Peanut Powder

Method

  1. Boil together the syrup ingredients, stir until the sugar is dissolved, then keep at a bare simmer while preparing the rice balls.
  2. Prepare the tang yuan dough. Combine the rice flour with water. Mix well with a spoon until the dough comes together, then knead to form a smooth dough.
  3. Pinch off small pieces of dough form balls about ¼” to ½” in diameter, repeating until you’ve used all the dough.
  4. To cook the tang yuan, remove the spices from the syrup, then bring it back up to a gentle boil. Add the dough balls to the syrup, spacing them out so that they don’t stick together. Do not crowd them. If needed, cook in split batches.
  5. Cook for 3 minutes or until the tang yuan become a bit translucent looking and they float to the top.
  6. Serve immediately in a bowl with some of the syrup.
  7. Alternatively, strain from the syrup and transfer to a plate, then dust with peanut powder and roll with a spoon to coat in the peanut powder.
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For a video tutorial, check out my Instagram stories.

Happy Winter Solstice! Tonight is the longest night of the year, and starting tomorrow each day will bring more sunshine, and new beginnings. I am definitely looking forward to that! How do you celebrate the Winter Solstice? I’d love to hear your family or culture’s traditions in the comments.

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