27 Dec 2010
One of my favourite childhood dishes made by my Por Por (Chinese for Maternal Grandmother) was zong; a Chinese glutinous rice dumpling with a filling wrapped inside bamboo leaves and steamed. Also known as zongzi, these are traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival (around late May to mid June).
I’ve tried zong with a variety of fillings including chestnuts and pork, but the only filling that has ever really made an impression on me is chicken, melon and peanut. I love unwrapping these little pyramid shaped parcels of sweet, salty, sticky gooeyness! The combinations of flavours and textures just go together so well.
There are numerous variations on how to make zong; different regions of South East Asia have their own unique special fillings and methods of preparation. We use the Northern method of folding zong and the chicken, melon and peanut filling is of Hokkien descent. We aren’t of Hokkien descent ourselves… but we like their style!
Since I’m at home in Wellington at the moment I thought it would be a good opportunity to get Por Por to teach me how to make zong. It all seemed to go well until I got to the actual folding side of things. Mum and Por Por were churning them out like experts but I found the origami like twisting and wrapping pretty tricky! I’ll try to explain it as best I can anyway…
Zong filled with Chicken, Melon and Peanut
(makes about 40)
1 2/3 cups glutinous rice
3 large shallots, finely sliced
325g dried sweet watermelon strips (available from Asian grocers), finely chopped
400g toasted peanuts, finely chopped
400g chicken breast, finely chopped
1 teaspoon 5 spice powder
1 teaspoon powdered galangal
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 teaspoon salt
80 bamboo leaves, boiled for about 15 minutes or until soft enough to wrap the zong. You can also reuse your bamboo leaves from previous zong making efforts as we did (obviously cleaned first) – simply soak in water for a little while to resoften.
20 pieces of twine, about 80 cms in length
Cook the glutinous rice according to instructions – it usually requires less water than cooking regular rice.
While the rice is cooking you can prepare the filling as follows. Dry fry shallots in a non stick pan. When they start to brown, pour in a good couple glugs of oil. Add the chicken and stir fry until cooked. Stir in salt, pepper and spices. Add melon, stir and remove from heat. Finally stir in the peanuts.
Prepare the twine by taking about 3 of the 80cm pieces, placing on top of each other, then folding in half and tying a knot close to the folded end so you end up with a little loop that you can hook over something like a chair leg, or door knob, or in our case a cupboard handle. You’ll end up with 6 loose strands that you can tie your zong to.
When rice and filling are cooked and cooled slightly you can start making your zong. We used the Northern style technique of folding. Hold both bamboo leaves (one on top of the other) with the vein side facing away from you and the back leaf slightly higher than the front leaf. Start bending the leaves as if you are about to fold in half then twist one side slightly behind the other side so you end up with a little cone. The purpose of using 2 overlapping leaves is to add depth to your cone, however if your bamboo leaves are already wide enough then a single leaf may be sufficient.
Next scoop a bit of the sticky glutinous rice into your cone. Pack it in as firmly as you can. It may help to have a bowl water nearby to prevent the rice sticking to your hands.
Next add in a good spoonful of the filling. The more filling, the tastier your zong will be. Pack it down, and finish with another big scoop of rice, again packing this down firmly.
Next fold down the top leaves firmly.
Make sure you also fold down the sides and pull the end tightly into a “V” shape so that everything is tightly enclosed and there are no gaping holes.Then twist the end of the leaf wrapping it snugly around the zong.
Now take one of the loose pieces of twine and wrap the twine tightly around the zong twice (making sure the folded bits are held in place) before securing in place with a double knot.
Cut the zong from the twine and unwrap for eating. My Mum prefers them cold, but I like them hot and fresh from the steamer. You can also refrigerate them and reheat later in the microwave.
Sadly my zong did not stack up to the experts!
I had a lovely time making zong with Mum and Por Por. Not sure how easily I’ll be able to do it in my little flat share kitchen in London but I look forward to giving it another shot next time I’m in Wellington!