Like a pasta dish, every home cook that makes them has his/her own recipe. When asked, they can’t tell you. These are both family traditions and spontaneous creations. ZongZi is the same. There are restaurants famous for it, and homes that make their own every year. In my childhood, it was a neighborhood thing. Families exchanged their home made ZongZi and kids get to vote for their favorite. It was one of my fondest memories.
ZongZi is the traditional food celebrated on the Lunar May 5th (June 18th for 2018). Making ZongZi is a big production no less than the Thanksgiving turkey. I have watched the process since I was a kid. Yet I knew so many who never dreamt of making it themselves.
Ingredients, for about 40 ZongZi:
|Large bamboo leaves
|at least 80 leaves, about 1 bag
|roughly 120 pieces
|Dried chestnut, optional
|Soy Sauce, light
|Soy Sauce, dark
|About 6 table spoons. Adjust to taste.
The night before:
- Cut pork into 3-inch long pieces the thickness of the big thumb. Don’t trim the fat. Pour in normal (or light) soy sauce, mix well, cover and refrigerate over night.
- Soak bamboo leaves in water for about 12 hours. Longer is fine.
The day of:
- Soak rice, mushrooms, and chestnuts in water for about 4 hours. Trim the bamboo leaf stems.
- Cut mushroom into strips, about 9 to 10 pieces per mushroom.
- After 4 hours, drain rice. Add dark soy sauce, mix well.
- Have at least one, preferably more, large stock pots.
Making ZongZi requires some practice. The general idea is to form a pocket with two bamboo leaves, fill the pocket with the ingredients, close the pocket, and secure it with a piece of twine. Afterward, put them in boiling water enough to cover. (Bring to boil before adding ZongZi into the water.) After the water comes back to boiling, reduce heat to a “slow roll” (higher than simmer) for about 90 minutes. We reuse the same pot for subsequent batches. The later batches therefore taste better from the more flavored broth.
Beginners need to learn to judge how much ingredients to put into the pocket. Generally, fill slightly more than what feels “comfortable.” For each one, make a bed of rice, put two pieces of meat, mushroom, and shrimps, then cover with another layer of rice. By weight, the rice and meat are about 3 to 2 in ratio. The twine should be snug, not loose for the pocket to disintegrate or too tight to cut into the bamboo. As those ZongZi cook, the rice expands and meat shrinks. The bamboo pocket may burst if the twine was too tight.
The sweet variations substitute the meat with something sweet; red bean paste is the most common. Find canned red bean paste from a Chinese supermarket. Form cylindrical sticks roughly the same size of meat, or about 2 ounces, with a small piece of lard. Rice should be just plain and soaked. Wrap and cook ZongZi the same way.
We had ZongZi parties when I was a kid. Similar to pizza parties, people come together to make their own with common set of ingredients, or even different ones. We invented different ways to identify the “maker.” That’s part of the fun. Remember it takes about 90 minutes to cook them.