Lunar New Year is always an exciting time of year. It’s a time when we all get together and eat lots of amazing food.
Every Asian culture celebrates Lunar New Year a little differently, but growing up Chinese American, we always made sure that we ate fish (for prosperity), noodles (for long life), oranges (for wealth), and tang yuan during the Lunar New Year feast.
“Tang” means soup, and “yuan” means round. “Yuan” also signifies a family gathering around a table, so this is why tang yuan are eaten at Lunar New Year.
Tang yuan are chewy sweet rice balls. They can be filled with anything (there are peanut butter ones, taro ones, and black sesame ones too) but these are filled with sweet red bean paste, which is one of my favorite fillings.
These tang yuan are easy to make, and refined sugar free but still taste just like the ones I grew up eating.
My family eats them with red bean soup, and this is the perfect thing to warm you right up during cold weather that we’re having.
I hope that you eat these tang yuan surrounded by lots of loved ones this Lunar New Year.
Tang Yuan (Sweet Rice Balls with Red Bean Filling)
Makes 12 Tang Yuan (about 3 – 4 servings) *
1/2 cup drained red beans **
1/8 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup sweet rice flour – 90 g (I used the Koda Farms Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour)***
1/4 cup warm water – 60 g
* 3 – 4 Tang Yuan per person should be ok if you’re eating a big meal for Lunar New Year, but my family usually eat a lot of them. Some people want 8 tang yuan in their bowl, some want 5, so it’s a good idea to make some extra ones just in case. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled if need be, and it’s nice to have some extra tang yuan on hand in the winter months when you want a sweet warm snack.
**Make the red bean soup first, then use those some of those red beans in this recipe. drain about 1 cup of beans and liquid before you measure the 1/2 cup. You want the 1/2 of beans to be almost all beans with very little liquid. Press the red beans lightly with the back of a spoon while the red beans are in a sieve so that you get as much excess liquid out of the beans as possible. You can save the liquid and add it back into the red bean soup, or keep it to the side to and eat it with a drizzle of maple syrup if you don’t want to make the red bean soup thinner.
*** I recommend weighing the sweet rice flour if possible for the best results.
1. Add the drained red beans into a food processor with the 1/8 cup of maple syrup (I know that it doesn’t seem like much sweetener, but it gives just the right amount of sweetness to the tang yuan) and blend until smooth. It will look like this when it’s done.
2. Cook the mixture in a small saucepan on medium high for 7-8 minutes, stirring constantly until thickened. It should be a similar texture to jam when you’re done.
3. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool. The mixture should be reduced to just over 1/3 cup of red bean paste. Lay plastic wrap over a plate, and scoop a 1/2 tsp amount of the red bean paste into your hands and roll into a ball. Place the ball on the plate and repeat until you use up all the red bean paste. You should get about 12 little balls of paste in total. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1 hour until solid.
4. When the red bean balls are frozen solid, add the warm water to the sweet rice flour and stir with a fork until a shaggy dough is formed. Knead the dough together with your hands for 1-2 minutes until smooth.
5. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and keep the pieces of dough that you’re not working with covered with plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out.
Take the red bean paste balls out of the freezer. If you’re working with a double or triple batch, take about 12 red bean paste balls out of the freezer at a time, that way that don’t defrost before you cover them in the dough. It’s much easier to wrap the red bean paste in the dough if the red bean paste is frozen solid.
Wet your hands, and flatten each piece of dough into a small disk in your hand and pinch and fold the dough together to cover the red beans paste and roll until the ball is smooth.
If you’re a visual learner, this video shows how it’s done starting at the 2:30 min mark.
The first time I tried covering the balls in the dough, I did it with dry hands and it was much more difficult to work with than when my hands were wet. When I tried it again with wet hands, I made a double batch and only had trouble covering about 4 out of 24 of the tang yuan.
If the dough is too dry, it won’t stick to the red bean paste. You can peel off the dough and knead in a few drops of water before trying to cover the red bean paste again.
If the dough is too wet, it also won’t stick to the ball of red bean paste, but it will stick to just about everything else. In that case, just knead it with your hands for a little bit until it dries out a little and try again. Don’t worry if you can see little flecks of red bean paste on the outside of the tang yuan. No one will notice once they are in the soup.
If you get an air bubble around the red bean paste and the dough is not sticking to the ball, pull all the dough off of the ball, wet your hands, knead it the dough a little and try covering the ball again. This technique works better than trying to squeeze the air out which tends to make the rest of the dough pull away from the ball as well.
Once you’re done rolling the tang yuan, put them onto a plate lined in plastic wrap and cover lightly with another layer of plastic wrap and freeze until solid. Once frozen, transfer the tang yuan into an air-tight container and stash in your freezer until you are ready to cook them.
When you want to cook them, warm up some red bean soup (or you can also eat the tang yuan in the water that you cook them in with a little maple syrup drizzled over for sweetness).
Then bring a pot of water to the boil. Add the tang yuan (cook a few extra in case a few break open while cooking), cover with the lid and turn the heat down to medium low. Let the tang yuan cook until they float (about 6-8 minutes) lifting the lid to check on them occasionally. Once they are floating, put the lid back on and then set a timer 3 minutes let them continue cooking over medium low until the timer goes off.
If some of the tang yuan break open, don’t worry about. Just ladle those ones into your bowl (cook’s treat, you can also ask if anyone else wants the extras) and they will taste just as good as the whole ones.
For the Miniature Tang Yuan – You can also make little (non-filled tang yuan) as well, and those are even easier to make.
Stir together 1/4 cup (45g) sweet rice flour with 1/8 cup warm water (30 g) and knead until smooth. Roll the dough into a long snake and keep cutting the dough in half until you have 32 little pieces of dough about the size of a centimeter. Roll each little piece of dough into a ball and place them on a plate lined in plastic wrap. Over lightly with another piece of plastic wrap and freeze until solid.
The cooking instructions for the little tang yuan (no matter if they are freshly made or frozen) is to bring a pot of water to the boil. Add in the little tang yuan, cover, and set a time for 3 minutes.
When the timer is up, scoop out the little tang yuan with a slotted spoon and add them to the red bean soup. Ta-da! Extra adorableness for Lunar New Year!
To Serve – Ladle the red bean soup into bowls, top with your tang yuan and drizzle over some maple syrup.
What I do when I eat this soup is I’ll drizzle over about 1 tbsp of maple per bowl and don’t stir it in. That way, each time you take a bite you get a little hint of sweetness and you use less sweetener overall in the soup.
I hope that you and your family have a lucky, wonderful, safe and prosperous Lunar New Year!