Tang Yuan (Glutinous Rice Balls) Recipe

These mochi-like balls are delicious vessels for a variety of sweet fillings.

A spoon holding a tang yuan ball above a serving bowl. The tang yuan's nut paste filling is oozing out of the dumpling skin.

Serious Eats / Chichi Wang

Why It Works

  • Making tang yuan from scratch allows you to experiment with different fillings.
  • The tang yuan are served in their cooking liquid, which doubles as a soothing broth.

A popular snack all over China, glutinous rice balls, or tang yuan, are filled with red bean, sesame, peanut, and other sweet fillings that ooze out from mochi-like dumplings skins. The dumpling skins owe their pleasantly gummy texture to glutinous rice flour, which produces a chewier dough.

You'll find packets of frozen tang yuan at most Chinese supermarkets, and these days the fillings not only come in the standard assortment, but have branched out into fancy-sounding ones like "sweet osmanthanus" and "chestnut and sesame seeds." Why then, take the trouble of making your own at home?

Close-up of filled tang yuan lined up on a floured work surface.

Serious Eats / Chichi Wang

Why not? The dough for tang yuan is a simple combination of glutinous rice flour, regular rice flour, and water. Once you get the hang of enclosing the dough around nuggets of sweet filling, you'll find that making your own tang yuan takes no more than half an hour.

The best part about making your own is that you can experiment with all kinds of nuts and pastes. The filling is a simple combination of sugar, lard, and a filling of nuts and/or beans. Instead of ground peanut or sesame, you can use almonds, cashews, and pecans. (To prepare the nuts: roast them, chop them up, and grind them in a mortar and pestle before mixing with lard and sugar.)

Or, if you've always found the red bean filling in supermarket tang yuan to be bland, you can make your own from dried adzuki beans. Coconut flakes are a great addition to fillings of any kind.

You can even vary the fat, substituting coconut oil for the traditional lard. I like to use the lard that I confit with for a filling that's extra meaty and mildly savory. You could also play around with smoky bacon fat.

Really, you can't go wrong with the filling. Who would turn down chewy rice balls that release a lava-like concoction that's sweet, nutty, and porky? Even the water in which tang yuan simmers is surprisingly soothing and tasty to sip between rice ball bites. Make the balls in large batches and freeze them for a quick breakfast or dessert.

May 2011

Recipe Facts

Prep: 30 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Active: 45 mins
Total: 45 mins
Serves: 6 to 8 servings
Makes: 15 to 20 rice balls

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Ingredients

For the Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons roasted and ground sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds, or cashews

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 2 tablespoons lard or coconut oil

For the Dumpling Skin:

  • 150g (1 1/2 cups) glutinous rice flour

  • 15g (2 tablespoons) regular rice flour or tapioca starch

  • 133-148g (9 to 10 tablespoons) boiling water

Directions

  1. To Make the Filling: Grind the seeds or nuts in a mortar and pestle to a fine but not powdery consistency. In a small saucepan, melt the lard. In a small bowl, mix the lard with the sugar and ground nuts. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator or freezer for a few minutes before use.

  2. To Make the Skin: In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk together the glutinous rice flour and regular rice flour (or tapioca flour). Add the water, starting with 9 tablespoons (133g) and adding an additional 1 tablespoon (15g) if necessary, to make a soft but non-sticky dough. Divide the dough in half. Working on a surface dusted with rice flour, roll each half into a cylinder about 1 1/2 inches thick and cut the dough into segments about 1 inch wide; dust with more glutinous rice flour as needed to prevent sticking.

  3. To Make the Dumplings: Take one piece of dough and make an indent with your thumb to flatten it. Place the filling into the indent and draw the sides of the dough up to enclose it. Roll it gently between your palms to make a smooth ball. Lay the dumplings on a tray dusted with glutinous rice flour until you are ready to cook them. They can also be refrigerated or frozen.

    Tang yuan are being filled on a floured work surface. Several pieces of tang yuan dough have been flattened and indented. Balls of filling are centered on each one.

    Serious Eats / Chichi Wang

  4. To Cook the Dumplings: Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add the dumplings and gently stir to prevent sticking at the bottom of the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes, taking care not to let the water boil vigorously or else the dumpling skins will tear. The dumplings are done when the skins are almost translucent. Ladle the dumplings into soup bowls along with the cooking water.

Special Equipment

Saucepan, large pot

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
135 Calories
5g Fat
21g Carbs
2g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories 135
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 5g 6%
Saturated Fat 3g 15%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 2mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 21g 8%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 0mg 0%
Calcium 23mg 2%
Iron 1mg 6%
Potassium 28mg 1%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)