Archive for the 'dumplings & tamales' Category


Cactus Hominy Polenta Cake

[ Equipment: steam oven, steamer or low-temperature-capable convection oven, an 6-inch (2-cup) round cake pan. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths. ]

This steamed cake is a savory companion to the Maple Polenta Cake with Chamomile Hominy. The batter mixes cornmeal and rice flour for a softer polenta than from cornmeal alone. The tomato bullion contains chicken bullion with dried tomato essence, and regular chicken bullion with a spoon or two of tomato sauce should substitute fine. My local market sold jars of prickly pear cactus nopalitos, cooked and cut into strips. They have a light vinegary flavor and a mucilaginous texture, a great match for the soft polenta. If cactus isn’t available, substitute chopped string beans.

Makes 4 servings
– 105 calories per serving
– Oven Temperature: effective 250°F/121°C steam baked

  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons tomato bullion powder
  • 3 tablespoons plain tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons glutinous rice flour
  • 1 cup prepared (canned) hominy
  • 1/3 cup chopped cactus nopalitos (cooked cactus strips)

1. In a small bowl, whisk cornmeal and rice flour until evenly combined.

2. In a saucepan, heat water, bullion and tomato sauce until simmering.

3. Whisk in cornmeal-flour and continue whisking until mixture has thickened and coming away from sides of saucepan.

4. Mix in hominy.

5. Mix in chopped cactus.

6. Pour into greased 6-inch pan or 2-cup baking dish. The polenta cake can be steamed or steam baked. For steam baking, leave the water tray uncovered and place a trivet or stand to hold the dish above the water line. Steam bake at 250°F/121°C for 70 minutes.

7. Cool. Slice and serve.


Purple Rice Zong Zi Wrapped Dumplings w/Apple-Guava Filling (Steamed)

[ Equipment: steamer. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

The Dragon Boat Festival officially took place on June 23 this year. To celebrate, I made zongzi (粽子) steamed wrapped dumplings with “forbidden rice”, also called purple rice. I was shocked to find it in my local market which does not stock plain glutinous rice. A tiny bag of purple rice cost me almost $7. I learned that purple rice zongzi, relatively new in restaurants, command premium prices too.

Typically, purple rice zongzi contain a sweet filling, although savory fillings can complement the nutty flavor of the rice just as nicely. A sweet filling could be red bean paste or a yam paste. I had a can of guava paste in my food bin, so that became the central flavor for my filling. Guava paste has a strong flavor and lots of sugar, so I cut the sweetness with applesauce and mixed the fruit into a lima bean paste. As an alternative, the recipe does include a savory sausage filling.

I recommend steaming these dumplings only. Do not boil them because they will lose their color in the water. At the time of this writing, there were no other purple rice zongzi recipes online. As I did in my earlier white rice zongzi recipe, I wrapped the dumplings in corn husks, which are available locally.

Makes 4 dumplings
– 165 calories per dumpling
– Oven Temperature: steamed


  • 1/2 cup raw purple rice
  • 4 portions filling (sausages, apple-guava paste, etc. – see text, see below)

Apple-Guava Filling:

  • 1/4 cup lima bean puree
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons guava paste
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce

Apple-Guava Filling Method

1. Soak beans for 4 hours or overnight. Drain. Put beans in a saucepot and cover with water. Simmer until tender, about 30 to 45 minutes. Put beans in a small bowl and puree to a smooth paste with an immersion blender (or do this in a food processor or blender).

2. Measure out 1/4 cup of the bean puree. Mix in applesauce and guava paste with a fork. Then puree the mixture to a smooth paste with an immersion blender or food processor.

3. Transfer to a heatproof cup. Heat the paste in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. Remove and stir the paste to cool and allow moisture to evaporate. Replace in the microwave and repeat this procedure until the paste darkens and thickens and an inserted spoon will remain standing in the paste (about 3 to 4 minutes). Mixture will have reduced down to about 2 to 3 tablespoons.

4. Cool. Store covered in a refrigerator until ready to use.

Dumpling Method:

1. Rinse and soak rice overnight or for about 6 hours. The rice grains will split open and double in volume. Pour out some of the soaking water, but leave enough to cover the rice.

2. Bring steamer water to a medium boil. Steam rice in a wide-bottom bowl for 40 minutes.

3. Prepare the fillings. In the picture above,  the bowl on the left has the apple-guava paste. The bowl on the right contains a

4. Lay flat a corn husk. Spread 2 heaping tablespoons of rice on the leaf into an area about 3-1/2 x 2 inches. Lay a piece of sausage over the rice or shape about 2 tablespoons of guava paste into a sausage and lay over the rice.

5. Cover with 2 tablespoons more of rice.

6. Wrap the husk closed, fold and tie with kitchen twine to secure. Steam the zongzi for 1 hour 30 minutes.

7. Cool. Unwrap and serve. The picture above shows a purple rice zong-zi with sausage filling. In the picture below, the filling is apple-guava paste. I like to serve the apple-guava paste dumpling with a drizzle of honey or agave syrup.


Brisa Del Mar Tamale Muffins With Lima Bean Frosting (Baked)

These muffins are basically tamale pies baked in muffin form with a center filling with a “brisa del mar” (“sea breeze”) from seafood permeating throughout. The main deviations from basic tamale pie are the chopped clams in the chili, the seaweed flakes in the cornmeal batter, the “frosting” of pureed lima beans, and the smokey paprika, which reminds me of barbecue. Like the zong-zi wrapped rice dumplings, these muffins are just about a complete meal in one package. Once the cornmeal solidifies, they can be handled without breaking apart, and can be put in a cupcake carrier and stowed in lunchboxes (with the salsa in a separate sauce container or in packets – like the fastfood ones – instead of garnishing the frosting).

Originally, this recipe instructed a homemade chili filling, but I decided to simplify it by using a canned chili instead. My local markets dedicate almost an entire aisle to canned chilis, so I didn’t lack for choice. As I was developing this recipe, it occurred to me that combining the chili with a seafood would be an interesting touch, since I live in a city with a seafood waterfront. Beef and clams were a classic combination. I also tried mixing in dried ground shrimp (shrimp powder) for a scent of seafood, but it tasted slightly bitter.

The “fiesta” frozen vegetables are a mix of carrots, broccoli, sweet peas, white beans. garbonzo beans, kidney beans, green beans and red peppers. I did try a frozen “stir-fry” mix as well (with such asian-style vegetables as water chestnuts, mung bean sprouts and snap peas), but found the asian flavors clashed with the TexMex flavors too much for my palette.

The frosting was originally supposed to be mashed potatoes, but I went with pureed lima beans when I discovered how close they were to real mashed potatoes (many of my bun and pastry fillings are based with lima bean puree). Thematically, the lima bean puree echoed the bean ingredients in the batter. The recipe makes more puree than absolutely necessary for frosting the muffins, but I like a thick layer of frosting on my tamale muffins.

For vegetarians, these muffins can be made meat-free by substituting a vegetarian chili for the beef chili. Although clams qualify as a type of meat, some vegetarians will eat clams. For those that do not, substitute an imitation seafood such as imitation crab or shrimp. Seaweed flakes are available in American markets, but I made my own flakes by roughly grinding half a sheet of a sushi wrapper (sushi nori)  in a spice grinder or by cutting it into confetti with a scissors (see the picture above). I haven’t tried a vegan cheese, but there are cheddar-like vegan cheeses that melt like a dairy cheddar.

Makes 4 tamale muffins

– 130 to 190 calories per muffin (frosted with 1 tablespoon of lima bean puree)
– Oven Temperature: 250°F/121°C

Tamale Muffins:

  • 1/4 cup prepared beef chili (canned chili)
  • 1/8 cup chopped chopped clams
  • 3/4 cup frozen “fiesta” vegetables, thawed (see text)
  • 1/8 cup chunky-style salsa
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika (see text)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cumin (see text)
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot sauce
  • 1/8 cup grated cheddar cheese or other soft cheese or vegan melting cheese (see text)
  • 3/8 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1-1/4 cup water
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons seaweed flakes (see text)
  • 1 cup seasoned lima bean puree (see below)

Lima Bean Puree (makes about 1/2 cup)

  • 1/2 cup dried baby lima beans
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pureed Lima Beans Method:

1. Soak lima beans in water overnight.

2. Drain beans. Put in sauce pot and cover with water. Simmer for about an hour or until beans are tender.

3. Drain and puree beans in a mini food processor or with an immersion blender.

4. Season puree with salt and chili powder or pepper to taste.

Muffins Method:

Preheat oven to 250°F/121°C.

1. If necessary, chop back any pieces of the fiesta vegetable mix larger than 1/2 inch.

2. Add salsa, hot sauce, chili powder, cumin, salt and mix. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, mix the chili, cheese, chopped clams and smoked paprika until well combined.

4. In a medium sauce pot, mix water, cornmeal and dried ground shrimp or seaweed flakes. On medium heat, stirring constantly with a whisk, cook the corn meal until it thickens into a paste and clears the bottom of the pot as it’s stirred (usually less than 5 minutes).

5. Remove from heat. Stir the vegetable mixture into the cornmeal.

6. Grease 4 muffin molds (1/2 cup capacity). Fill each muffin mold about 7/8 full with the cornmeal batter.

6. With a spoon, press a deep hole into the center of each muffin.

7. Put 1 tablespoon of the reserved meat mixture into the center of each muffin and press down until just below level of the mold.

8. Spread the cornmeal mixture from around the muffin to cover the fillling.

9. Optional: sprinkle the top of each muffin with grated cheese. Muffins that will be frosted with lima bean puree don’t need the cheese topping, which will toughen or harden as the muffin cools. To help the cheese stay moist, cover the top with disks of parchment paper, perforated with a paper hole punch to release steam.

10. Bake for 2 to 3 hours until the muffins are firm and the cheese is melted and lightly brown. Interestingly, if the muffins are refrigerated for several hours before baking, they may brown in as little as 1-1/2 hours, possibly because more water is absorbed into the cornmeal during the refrigeration. As is true of a corn pudding, the longer the muffins are baked, the more the cornmeal softens and smooths out.

11. Remove muffins from oven and cool for at least 45 minutes. If they aren’t cooled long enough, the muffins won’t hold their shape when unmolded.

12. Unmold each muffin and stand upright. Remove any paper covering from the baking process.

13. Frost each muffin with lima bean puree. If the muffins will be served hot, reheat them in a steamer or wrap them in a wet towel and reheat in the microwave, before garnishing them with salsa in the next step.

14. Just before serving, top each muffin with a spoonful of salsa.

15. An alternative way to serve is to put the muffin in a bowl and add a serving of vegetables, salsa and lima bean puree.


Zong-Zi Wrapped Rice Dumplings (Boiled or Steamed)

[ Equipment: steamer or large pot for boiling. For more information about the terminology in this recipe, see Low Temperature Baking: A Journey of 3 Paths ].

The Chinese Dragon Boat Festival takes place on June 16 this year. They don’t race dragon boats in the US, but people do celebrate by eating zong-zi (also written zhongzi and called jung in Cantonese), rice dumplings with assorted fillings, wrapped in bamboo leaves, that are boiled or steamed. In Chinatown markets, bakeries and from street vendors, zong-zi are sold year-round. Because the dumplings are wrapped, they can be held and eaten as a meal on the run (don’t forget the soy sauce packets). My favorite way to eat them is in bowl with an assortment of chopped vegetables.

Although supermarkets in the US dedicate a few shelves to Asian foods, two basic components of zong-zi are still rare: bamboo leaves and glutinous rice. Asian specialty markets stock them and esoteric ingredients for the filling, but I decided to make American-style zong-zi. That is, I would make them only from ingredients that were found locally.

Instead of bamboo leaves, I used dried Mexican tamale corn husks. Banana leaves would have been great as wrappers (being large and green), but I didn’t find any locally. Tamale corn husks are between a half and a third as long as the average bamboo leaf. Printed on the bag of medium grain rice (discussed next), the recommended serving per person is 1/4 cup of uncooked rice. Happily, one large corn husk will wrap that amount of rice plus a few heaping spoonfuls of filling. Smaller husks can be joined to make one large wrapper or even a super-sized wrapper.

In place of the glutinous rice, I substituted a medium grain rice (Hinode brand Silver Pearl). Because the dumplings in this recipe are boiled, the individual rice grains flow into each other and merge into a cake, with a texture very much like a glutinous rice dumpling. I have read of zong-zi made with a long grain rice, so the lack of speciality rices should not be a deterrent from making zong-zi. Sushi rice might have been a better substitute for glutinous rice. Both are short grain, sticky rices, although a couple of online sources insisted that glutinous rice is stickier than sushi rice. I didn’t look for the sushi rice because I discovered a bag of medium grain rice hiding at the bottom of one of my food bins.

Zong-zi can have a variety of fillings, from meats to sweet bean pastes. My dumplings were stuffed with a savory filling made of vegetables (mushrooms, green onions and bamboo shoots) and a meat or meat alternative. Traditionally, the mushrooms would be reconstituted dried Chinese or shitake-type mushrooms. I substituted white button mushrooms that had been steam cooked for 5 minutes and roughly chopped. The bamboo shoots bring in a crunch, scent and presence of bamboo, as a reminder of the missing bamboo leaves. Chopped water chestnuts would also add crunch. The meat component can be cooked chicken or pork or a Chinese sausage or an equivalent. The “meat” in the pictures below is actually slices of vegetarian riblet, each one about the size of a mini sausage link. To bind everything together, I mixed in a few spoonfuls of prepared hoisin sauce. Hoisin sauce is sweet and tangy. For a more savory taste, oyster sauce or a thick stir-fry sauce would be good binding sauces as well.

The shape of a zong-zi can be the simple rectangular package or the famous pyramidal or tetrahedron forms. Because the corn husks are so small, it was much easier to wrap the rectangular shape. The tying technique shown below is efficient and traditional, but the dumplings can be tied any way that holds the husk flaps down.

Zong-zi can be steamed or boiled. However, unless the rice is pre-cooked, steaming may not evenly cook the rice inside the dumplings. Thus, for steamed zong-zi, pre-cook the rice first by steaming it for 30 minutes in a dish filled with water to cover the rice. Dumplings stuffed with uncooked rice will expand during boiling and could burst through the wrapping, but dumplings containing pre-cooked rice are more stable because the rice is already plumped.

This starter recipe makes only 2 dumplings. It’s far more convenient to assemble and cook a large batch of zong-zi at a time. Double, quadruple or otherwise multiply the quantity of ingredients as desired. For the Dragon Boat Festival, home cooks may devote an entire day to preparing different varieties of zong-zi, hung all around the kitchen to dry. Large batches of zong-zi freeze well, and quickly reheat in the microwave.

Makes 2 zong-zi dumplings
– 250 calories per dumpling (varies with filling)
– Oven temperature: boiled or steamed

  • Dried Mexican tamale corn husks (or dried bamboo leaves)
  • 1/2 cup medium grain white rice (or glutinous rice or sticky short-grain rice)
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped white mushrooms (or shitake mushrooms)
  • 1 tablespoon sliced green onion
  • 1-1/2 tablespoon julienned bamboo shoots (or chopped water chestnuts)
  • 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce (or stir-fry sauce, oyster sauce or other thick dipping sauce – see text)
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons soy sauce (see text)
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 mini sausage links (or equal amount of cooked meat or meat alternative about 3 inches long)
  • 2 three-foot lengths of cotton kitchen twine

1. Soak rice in water for 3 or 4 hours or overnight. Drain.

Raw rice is for boiled dumplings. For steamed dumplings, the rice should be pre-cooked (see text above).

2. Soak corn husks in warm water for about an hour. Put in more husks than actually needed, in case some of them have splits, which are difficult to see when the husks are in dried form. The husks should be very pliable after soaking or they will be hard to fold.

3. In a small bowl, mix vegetables. Drain off any excess water. Add chili powder and hoisin sauce. Add soy sauce to taste, but not so much that the mixture turns runny. In a second small bowl, put the mini sausages or meat alternatives.

4. Place husk on flat surface or over a small baking cup. Husks measuring about 6 inches wide at the top and 9 inches long or larger are the easiest to wrap.

Overlapping Two Smaller Husks To Make A Big Wrapper

Two small husks (less than 6 inches wide) can be overlapped top to bottom to form a rectangle and hold one dumpling.

5. Spread two tablespoons of rice on the husk starting about 2 to 3 inches from the top and in an area about 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 inches.

6. Spoon 2 teaspoons of the vegetable mix over the rice. Put a sausage link (or other meat or meat alternative) over the vegetables.

7. Spoon 2 more teaspoons of the vegetable mix around the sausage or to cover it. Spoon 2 tablespoons of rice over the filling.

8. Fold sides of husk closed to cover the filling.

9. Fold the bottom flap over against the dumpling.

10. Fold the top flap over against the dumpling, overlapping the bottom flap. Secure the top flap with a loop of cotton twine tied in a half knot.

11. Place more loops of twine and half knots along the dumpling to secure both flaps and bring string around the bottom of the dumpling and back up over the top. The tension should be sufficient to hold the dumpling together but allow for some expansion. If the dumpling is tied too tightly, the rice could split the corn husk when cooked.

15. If needed, wrap one more loop at the top of the dumpling. Then tie the string ends together.

16. For boiled dumplings, bring large pot of water to boil and drop dumplings into the water (two dumplings will fit in a 2-3 quart saucepan) and boil on medium heat for 2 hours. For steamed dumplings, put dumplings in steamer and steam for 1-1/2 hours.

17. Remove dumplings and cool.

18. Serve by removing the string and unwrapping the husk or leaves. Sprinkle with soy sauce.

19. Refrigerate or freeze extra dumplings for later.