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Sweet Red Bean Glutinous Rice Balls (Tang Yuan) - Free of Top Allergens

Today is New Year's Eve. Wait, what?

Yes, it is Chinese New Year's Eve. For many Chinese families around the world, this is the biggest celebration of the year. It is the equivalent of Christmas and Thanksgiving merged into one holiday.

The celebration is rooted in lots of tradition; too many to cover in this post but if you are interested, you can read more about it here on Wikipedia.

Each family has their own way of celebrating Chinese New Year. Until recently, we did the bare minimum to celebrate Chinese New Year: putting out oranges, giving away red envelopes, and sharing a Chinese feast with family or friends. This year, we went all out: cleaning our house from top to bottom, wearing new clothes, paying off debts before the New Year, among many other things. One day to go and I am pooped from all the cleaning and cooking!

Three years ago, I started a tradition of making my own Chinese New Year's feast. This year, I have 8 dishes and 1 dessert (all made from scratch except for the dumplings which I outsourced due to lack of time):

2015 Chinese New Year Menu

Dumplings ~ Prosperity
Lettuce cups* ~ Rising Fortune 
Steamed Fish ~ Abundance
Soy Sauce Chicken* ~ Health 
Turnip Cake (Lo Bak Gao)* ~ Good Fortune 
 Jai (Buddha's Delight)* ~ Fortune, Prosperity, Luck
Tea eggs ~ Fertility/Prosperity
Long life noodles* ~ Longevity 
Tang Yuan ~ Togetherness

* I will be posting the recipes next week.

Each dish eaten during the Chinese New Year dinner is symbolic of what you wish for the coming year: health, luck, fortune, fertility, longevity, prosperity, abundance, togetherness, and etc. This recipe for glutinous rice balls (tang yuan) signifies togetherness.

Glutinous rice balls are served at festivals or at Chinese New Year as a dessert. It can have many different types of fillings: red bean, sesame, peanut, among others. Despite its name, glutinous rice balls do not contain any gluten, so it is safe for people with Celiac or those allergic to wheat (please always read labels). Store bought glutinous rice balls can be unsafe for people with food allergies, so this year, I made my own.

Overall, the recipe is relatively easy, especially if you use store bought red bean paste. The most time consuming part was rolling each rice ball. I thought this is a worthwhile recipe to make as my little man (who is allergic to peanuts and almonds) can enjoy. This recipe is free of top allergens and is a great way to celebrate togetherness with my family.

Glutinous rice balls with ginger syrup

1 cup glutinous rice flour
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil (do not use olive oil)
1/4 cup room temperature water
1/4 cup red bean (azuki) paste (homemade recipe here)

1. In a bowl, mix glutinous rice flour, oil and water together. Add more water by the tablespoon until it is silky smooth and does not stick to the sides of the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap until you are ready to make the rice balls. Note: Do not refrigerate the dough (at this point) as it will make the dough brittle.

2. Scoop 3/4 of a teaspoon of red bean paste on a plate. Repeat until you have 16 red bean balls. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 10 minutes.

3. Line a rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap.

4. Take the red bean balls out of the freezer. Roll each piece between the palms of your hands so it forms a round ball. Wash your hands so you do not get the red bean paste all over your glutinous rice balls.

5. On a cutting board, divide the dough into 16 equal pieces. Cover with plastic wrap so the dough does not dry out.

6. Powder your hands with a bit of glutinous rice flour. Using your hands, flatten the edges of the dough into an oval, making sure not to flatten out the center. If the dough breaks apart, dip the dough in some water.

7. Place a red bean ball in the center of the oval, fold the dough over and seal. Lightly roll it into a ball with the palms of your hand.

8. Put the rice ball on the plastic wrap lined baking sheet, making sure there is lots of space between each rice ball. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.

Cooking Instructions
1. If you are eating right away, bring a pot of water to boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and drop in the rice balls. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice balls from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Do not boil the rice balls on high heat as this causes the filling to burst. You have been warned. :)

2. Using a slotted spoon, fish out the rice balls once they float.

3. Eat on its own or serve with ginger syrup (highly recommended).

Freezing Instructions
Cover the rice balls with plastic wrap and freeze for 2 hours until it is frozen solid. Transfer to a Ziploc bag.

Source: Slightly adapted from Instructables

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