Zong Zi or Zhong as I like to write it is a traditional Chinese food that’s eaten on the 5th day of the 5th month of the Chinese calendar. This year it fell on last Wednesday (6/15). This is also the time of the dragon boat races. Traditional folk tales say that zhong were thrown into the water to feed either a famous poet that drowned himself or to feed the water dragons to keep them from eating the poet’s body. Zhong is made from glutinous or sweet rice and wrapped with bamboo leaves. It can be filled with whatever you want. My family likes to put fatty pork, Chinese sausage (lop cherng), salted egg yolk, small dried shrimp, and either mung bean (called green bean in Chinese) or peanuts. It’s a very time consuming process to make zhong but with a bit of practice, it’s actually not difficult. The bounty of zhong you get in return makes the process worth it.
Since there are not many recipes out in the world wide web, I am going to share with you my family’s recipe as it was taught to me by my mom.
Huang Family’s Zong Zi
Makes around 35-40 pieces.
5 lb sweet (glutinous) rice
1 bag bamboo leaves
2 lb of pork belly with skin
1/2 pack of Chinese sausage (lop cherng), cut on a diagonal 1/2″ thick
1 bag of salted egg yolk, each yolk cut into 3 pieces (optional)
1 bag dried, peeled mung beans
1 bag (12 oz) shelled plain peanuts, soaked in room temperature water for 25 min, mix into rice, add salt
1/2 cup dried shrimp, soaked in water overnight and drained
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp five spice powder (optional)
2 tsp Chinese cooking wine (optional)
ball of white string
a gigantic pot or 2-3 big pots
1. The night before:
a) Wash bamboo leaves thoroughly by scrubbing or rinsing each piece in the sink. Soak leaves overnight in a pot of warm water.
b) Cut pork belly into 1/2″ to 3/4″ pieces, you should have around 40 pieces. Marinate pieces overnight in the fridge with 1 tsp salt, some pepper, 2 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp five spice powder, and 2 tsp Chinese cooking wine.
c) Soak dried shrimp in warm water overnight.
Day of cooking:
2. Wash rice in cold water with 3 changes of water. Soak in cold water for 1 hour. Drain in colander for 10 minutes or until no water is dripping out. Then, return rice to bowl and mix in 2 Tbsp salt and 3 Tbsp oil (we use the Chinese ceramic soup spoons). You can also add some soy sauce.
3. In a large pot, boil the leaves for 5 minutes. Then, drain and rinse leaves in cold water. Let the leaves sit in a colander to drain.
4. Soak peanuts for 20 minutes.
5. Rinse mung beans until the water is no longer bright yellow, about 2-3 rinses. Mix in 1/2 tsp salt and bit of oil.
6. Meanwhile, chop Chinese sausage, and salted egg yolks, if using.
7. Assemble all ingredients on a table where you can wrap the zhong comfortably.
8. Watch the video to learn how to wrap zhong. There are other videos on youtube that might help too.
a) Take 2 leaves and hold them together horizontally, offset by 1″, with your palms facing down. Fold the leaves in half and make a notch at the bottom incorporating both leaves in the fold. This makes a pocket for the rice so it cannot leak out.
b) Put a scoop of rice (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup).
c) Put a tsp of mung beans on top of the rice.
d) Take another leaf and it around the walls of the pouch so it makes a higher wall.
e) Add 2 or 3 shrimps, 1 piece each of fatty pork, sausage and egg yolk.
f) Add another tsp of mung bean and cover everything with another scoop of rice.
g) Fold the walls together towards the previous notch to enclose the filling. Turn the zhong so that the only opening is now facing up. Tap the zhong to settle the rice downwards.
h) Finally, while holding the zhong so that a bottom corner is facing you, fold down the remaining leaves by pressing a straight line at the top edge of the filling. The fold should be in the direction towards you or away from you (toward either of the two bottom corners).
i) Hold the string, leaving a foot long tail) and use the part connected to the roll to wrap one half of the horizontal zhong four times. Then, switching hands, wrap the other half of the zhong using the tail end of the string, 3-4 times. Make the two strings meet in the middle and wrap the zhong twice vertically. Tie off leaving two tails. (Wrap it once vertically for peanut).
9. After wrapping around 20 mung bean zhong or until you have half the rice remaining, mix in the drained peanuts with the rice and add an additional teaspoon of salt. Follow the same steps to wrap zhong except leave out the mung beans.
10. Place 3 leaves at the bottom of each pot. Place zhong into pots. Fill with water and cover. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium (stove dial 5) and cook for 3 1/2 hours. Leave the lid open a crack if it keeps boiling over. Keep hot water on hand to replenish evaporated water.
11. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Store in the fridge for about a week or freeze. Reheat by boiling or steaming.
Notes: These zhong are savory, not sweet. Sweet rice is the name for glutinous rice that turns sticky and is not named that way because it’s sweet in taste. On the day of, I started at 11 AM and finished boiling everything at 5 PM. Once I filled up the first pot at 12:30 PM, I put it to cook and then finished up the rest by 1:30 PM. It goes A LOT faster if you have more hands to help. You get a lot faster once you figure out how to wrap and tie them.
I hope this helps you if you ever decide to make some. They’re really satisfying and delicious!