Before I left SoCal, Sarah wanted me to teach her how to make zong zi - delicious packets of glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. This dish is typically eaten during Duan Wu Jie aka Dragon Boat Festival or the Double Fifth Festival. Popular zong zi fillings include fatty pork, shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, salted duck egg, sweet Chinese sausage, mini shrimp (xia mi), mung bean...pretty much anything your heart desires! My family usually keeps it simple with just pork, mushrooms, and peanuts. For this recipe, I included sweet Chinese sausage too since this is a favorite of Sarah's.
As with all of my parents' recipes, the quantities are never exact. Usually when I ask my mom, "How much of...(fill in the blank here)?", the answer is usually, "Until it looks right." I guess it just takes many many tries to develop a Chinese chef's own internal calibration. I am certainly working on mine!
In the end, zong zi making is quite simple with the only difficulty being the wrapping process. That and patience - the ingredients usually need to be prepped several hours in advance (or the night before) and once wrapped, they need to boil for at least 2 hours. For this zong zi enthusiast, waiting is the hardest part!
(makes ~40 zong zi)
80 dried bamboo leaves
One 5-pound bag of glutinous rice (either long grain or short grain - your preference)
2-3 pounds of pork shoulder, butt, or belly
20 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 package of sweet Chinese sausage, cut into 1/4 inch slices on a diagonal
1.5 cups raw peanuts
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/3 cup + 3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice cooking wine
3 tbsp five spice powder
1 tbsp sugar
Soak bamboo leaves in a basin or your sink overnight. Scrub the leaves to remove any dirt or residue. Meanwhile, place rice in a large pot and cover with water. Allow to soak overnight as well. Boil the raw peanuts on a low simmer for at least an hour, then drain. Soak shiitake mushrooms in water until soft. Wring dry and cut into strips (~3-4 strips per mushroom).
Once the leaves and rice have been soaking for at least a few hours, preferably overnight, drain any remaining water from the rice. Season the rice with ~1/3 cup soy sauce (this is just an estimate...you want enough to turn the rice a slightly golden color but not too much to make it too salty. Alternatively, you can use less soy sauce and add some salt) and 3 tbsp vegetable oil. Cut pork into 1" pieces and season with 3 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice cooking wine, 1 tbsp sugar, and 3 tbsp five spice powder.
Lay out rice, marinated pork, shiitake mushroom strips, cooked peanuts, sweet Chinese sausage, and softened and cleaned bamboo leaves. Select two leaves that are about the same size. Align them with tapered ends overlying, shiny side up. Gently fold in half until the ends are parallel. This will form a small cone or cup for the rice and fillings. Be sure to hold the cone firmly in your non-dominant hand and do not let go!! Scoop in a heaping spoonful of the seasoned rice. Add the pork, mushroom, peanuts, and sausage and top with another heaping spoonful of rice. Slightly pinch the leaves at the top of the filling and fold the ends over to cover the top of the cone. You may have some extra tail sticking out. Simply pinch and fold over the excess (see pictures above). Make sure that all of the filling is completely wrapped by the leaves! Secure tightly with cooking string.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Gently place the wrapped zong zi in the pot and allow to simmer for 2 hours. Once fully cooked, unwrap your zong zi and be careful not to burn your mouth as you shovel in the hot sticky rice! You can season with some additional soy sauce or hot sauce if you'd like.
These freeze well and can be easily reheated in a steamer or in the microwave for a quick meal or snack. Having trouble with the wrapping? This video provides a good tutorial.