From my kitchen: Eight-treasure Rice pudding
The first day of the Spring Festival for year 2010 falls on Feb 14th, the Valentine’s day in most western countries. As more and more people in China are also celebrating the Valentine’s, this year’s festival seems so special. At least, I know a lot of my couple friends are chatting about it. This most important annual holiday traditionally lasts for 15 days, starting from the first day (Zheng Yue Chu Yi) of the Lunar year till the 15th (Zheng Yue Shi Wu)which is also called Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Jie).
When I was a kid, I counted down from the beginning of a year for the coming of the Spring Festival. Even thoughvmy family was very poor and living in the remote village at that time. My mom would always try her best to buy/make my brother and I new clothes ; My elder relatives would give us kids Red Envelopes (Ya Sui Qian, with different amounts of money inside); Mostly importantly, there were so many yummy dishes each day on the table. I now know why I developed such a good appetite and always get frustrated in losing weight. :-)
Interestingly, this Eight-treasure Rice Pudding I cooked here wasn’t the kind of dessert that I had in my childhood. I guess either my mom and grandma were having no idea of such a dessert or it’s just uncommon for the then Chinese peasants and their families to enjoy a dessert in such a fancy or luxurious way. Sugar was quite expensive at that time, and this dessert calls for a lot of it. I remember my mom comforted me with sugar water whenever I cry loudly. Oh, I just love it then-the sweetness of my “dessert” in a humble fashion.
So to celebrate this year’s big day, my friends Jing and Xiaoxin invited me and a couple of friends for a hotpot dinner at their apt at Somerville, MA. As usual, I’m the dessert Master. Ya, I am the one. :) I know I love baking and I can surprise my guests/hosts with all kinds of western desserts. I wanna something different this time. This drove me crazy and till 1 o’clock in the morning I was sleeping in my bed and tapping on my iPhone for ideas. Finally, this was it-the Eight-treasure Rice Pudding-Simple, nice looking, and delicious traditional Chinese dessert for riches in the old times and common people nowadays.
1:10 am, I jumped out of my cozy bed.
In my kitchen, my leftover bag of Thailand Sticky Rice sighed: “Is our ambitious mission possible? This crazy Chinese girl simply dumped us into a pot of boiling water for a comfy porridge last time. ”
“Oh, no worries, my cute rice babies. I will present you in the most elegant way you can ever imagine. But as for right now, please bear with me as I will soak you from head to toe till I see you in the morning.”
A cold but sunny day started. My soaked sticky rice was ready to be cooked thoroughly in my electric rice cooker. And when it’s done, the flavoring process began. If you’ve ever had the Thailand dessert–Mango Sticky Rice, you probably would immediately aware of the importance of flavoring the rice. Traditionally, Chinese uses lard and white sugar for this purpose. For health concerns, plants/nuts-based oil mostly replaced lard as a key player. I have a biased opinion though. Lard, butter, or any other type of animal fat are good whole foods as long as they are refined from organic/all natural raised animals, processed in a clean facility, and are free from other additives. Good food becomes bad food only if you eat too much or exercise too little. For this dessert, Lard can undoubtedly beat plants/nuts-based oil in terms of flavor. I only regret that I don’t have a jar of lard in my apartment pantry. I also wished that I brought home my grandma’s homemade candied flower from her fragrant Sweet Olive Shrub. Its amazingly rich and sweet aroma pairs just perfectly with cooked sticky rice or any of its varied format of desserts. Without other choices, I mixed vegetable oil and granulated white sugar into the sticky rice for about 4 minutes until it looked shining and felt elastic. (Please don’t use olive oil no matter if it’s pure or extra virgin, nor grape seed oil. Oil without aroma is the best.)
The next step is to prepare a layered or you can call it stuffed sticky rice bowl...