Growing up, my grandmother spent a lot of time making all sorts of steamed cakes and dumplings for us to enjoy. It was all made from scratch with fresh ingredients and plenty of love. Coming home from school we'd find turnip cakes or radish cakes, steamed dumplings or potstickers filled with chives, shrimp and pork, and just all kinds of handmade creations.
One of my absolute favorite things she made was a savory, chewy, sticky steamed mochi cake that I am going to share with you today. Honestly I loved all the things she made but this one is special to me because she developed this specifically to my tastes 😊
This mochi steamed cake, which we affectionately call "sticky cake" in our house (or nak nak ti in Taishanese), is filled with a variety of umami ingredients and textures like Chinese sausage, Chinese cured pork belly, cubed ham, dried baby scallops, scallions, pickled radish, mini dried shrimp and rehydrated shiitake mushrooms. The mochi cake is nice and chewy, and the flavors and textures of each ingredient compliment each other nicely as land and sea collide together in an explosion of umami goodness! *angels sing* It is best enjoyed warm from the steamer, and you can eat it as is or enjoy with hoisin sauce and sriracha.
Whenever I call her on the phone or visit my grandmother, she'll ask, "Sooo...want me to make nak nak ti?" And the usual answer, yes!
There's some prep involved with chopping all the ingredients into small pieces, and then cooking it on the stove top for the oils to come out and mix all together. The flour mixture is then made and is applied in layers into a steam cake pan alternating between the flour mixture and the meat. After steaming and giving it some time to set, it's ready to eat!
1. Prepare all your meat and veggies by chopping them all up in to small pieces. I find the smaller the pieces, the less noticeable they are in texture and flavor, whereas slightly larger pieces give you a more discernable flavor of each.
2. Stir fry the baby scallops, all the meat and mushrooms. Once the oil starts rendering out and it smells fragrant, remove and set to the side.
3. Pour both 16 oz bags into a mixing bowl. Add water a little by little and mix until the batter resembles a thick muffin or cookie batter. If it is flowing like pancake batter, you've added too much water, so be careful how much to add. Once well mixed, oil a round cake steam pan, about 12-14 inches. Doing so will help the cake come out of the pan more cleanly. You can also put down cling wrap or parchment paper along the sides and bottom if you wish.
4. Pour a layer of the batter onto the bottom and add the meat filling. Keep layering and alternating until you've run out of batter and filling. Make sure to leave enough filling to cover the top of the cake.
5. Heat a large wok with water (or prepare your steamer). Steam the mochi cake for 1 hour or until firm. Once it's done, remove from the steamer. At this point it will be very soft, (but still delicious), so you can either eat right away or let is cool and firm up a bit before cutting into the mochi cake. Enjoy!
You can always substitute filling choices with whatever you prefer if you're not one for Chinese cured meats, but these are flavors that I grew up eating with my grandmother. Whenever I smell Chinese pork belly or sausage (lap cheong), or pickled radish, or dried shiitake mushrooms (pretty much everything in this dish) it just makes me think of Grandma and her homecooking. There's always something in food the floods your brain with memories of home and for me, this is it! Hope you enjoy!
According to my grandmother who hails from Taishan, China, Dong Zhi, or the Winter Solstice Festival, is one of the biggest holidays in China, similar to how westerners celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving. It's not the same exact date every year, but always falls around the same time according to the Lunar solar calendar.
"Dong Zhi is bigger than the New Year" she says. Why? Because after Dong Zhi, the days are longer with more sunlight, and the flow of positive energy returns after the short, dark days of winter--Dong Zhi is also a time of year where the family gathers together and eats a very specific dish, Tong Yuan, glutinous rice balls, which symbolizes the idea of "reunion." The characters for Tong Yuan in Chinese also sounds like the phrase Tuen Yuen 團圓, which means "reunion."
!This is a dish that is typically made in a large pot and then enjoyed by the whole family. Ingredients include glutinous rice flour, cabbage, pork (or chicken), dried shrimp, dried scallops, Chinese sausage, daikon radish and shiitake mushroom. The soup is prepared with the vegetables and meat, while the glutinous rice flour is made into a dough with cold water. Once the dough is ready, little balls are rolled out and boiled in to the soup. When the rice balls float and the daikon radish is transparent, it's time to gather round and eat!
This dish can also be enhanced with oyster sauce and white pepper--it's a warming dish that's perfect for the cold winter weather! The glutinous rice dumplings are soft and pillowy, so it feels like eating smooth little clouds in a comforting soup. Each bite is soft and....almost bouncy!
My grandmother never measures her ingredients, but here is an approximation of her recipe 😊
• Glutinous rice flour (1/2 bag) + cold water
• Pork rib meat (or chicken thigh meat)
• Cabbage (1/2 head)
• Daikon (1/2 head)
• Dried Shrimp (1/4 cup)
• Dried Shiitake Mushroom (15 pieces) - rehydrated
• Dried baby scallops (1/2 cup)
• 2 Chinese sausages (cut into 1/2 pieces)
• Chicken bouillon powder (or salt) to taste
• 5 cups water
To create the tong yuan dough, add cold water a little by little and knead until the dough forms and is no longer sticky. Then, pull out a small amount of dough and roll into small balls, about 1/2 inch in size. They'll grow to be about 1-1.5 inches round when boiled in the soup.
1. First, boil a pot of water and blanch the meat for about 10 seconds. Then, rinse the chicken or pork meat under cold water and drain the blanch water. Start a new pot of water and start cooking the meat, shiitake mushrooms, dried shrimp, dried scallops and cabbage in the boiling water. Skim and remove foam and debris from the top of the soup as it cooks. Add the daikon radish last before adding the glutinous rice dumplings and cook until transparent.
2. As the soup is cooking, roll out the dumpling balls and place into the soup to cook. Once the balls become a little translucent and begin to float, it's ready to eat!
Some other renditions of tong yuan can be sweet and filled with sweet sesame or peanut paste, or the tong yuan can be filled with ground meat and shrimp. This is up to the traditions of each family, but we usually have it savory in our house.
Now that my grandmother has shared her recipe, I look forward to making it and passing this part of my culture and tradition down through my own family in the future too 😊 May you enjoy a warm family reunion for the Winter Solstice!
Just a gal who loves to eat and cook ❤