EIGHT PRECIOUS RICE PUDDING (for ten)
“I think the popularity of this steamed rice cake (not really a pudding), originally a Shanghai specialty, is due both to its festive appearance and its symbolism — eight is a lucky number. Each of the eight ‘precious’ ingredients (which can vary from chef to chef and from region to region, but are usually a combination of dried fruits, nuts and seeds arranged artfully on top) holds some kind of auspicious Chinese meaning, typically that you’ll have lots of sons or make lots of money.” Cecilia Chiang, The Seventh Daughter
2 cups sweet glutinous rice, rinsed and drained 3-¼cups water
¼ cup fresh shelled gingko nuts (Shelled fresh gingko nuts can be found in small vacuum packages, usually about 3-½ ounces, in the produce section of many Asian markets. They’re pale yellow and look like 1 inch long footballs)
¼ cup dried Chinese red dates
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup dried pineapple, cut into ½ inch pieces
¼ cup dried apricots, cut into ½ inch pieces
¼ cup lotus seeds (sold dried in packages and resemble small brown olives)
1 cup sweet red bean paste, sweetened to taste (Cecilia uses the Japanese red bean paste called ogura-an made by Morinaga, which doesn’t need additional sweetening. Stir in a little sugar and oil to taste for other brands.)
½ cup rock sugar or granulated sugar
1. In a saucepan, combine rice and 2-½ cups of the water and bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender, but still has a little resistance in the center (bite a few grains to test), about 15 minutes.
2. While the rice is cooking, put the gingko nuts in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit 3 minutes, drain and set aside.
3. In a small bowl, soak the dates in hot water for 30 minutes, until softened. Set aside.
4. In a small saucepan, cover the lotus seeds with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low to maintain a steady simmer and cook 10 minutes, or until tender, and drain. Transfer to a bowl and remove any green threads from the center of the lotus seed with a toothpick and discard. Set aside.
5. To form the pudding, spray or lightly oil an 8 inch heatproof glass or metal bowl. Place the raisins in the bottom of the bowl and alternate the pineapple, apricots, dates and gingko nuts in a decorative, circular pattern around the raisins.
6. Taking a handful of the cooled rice, form it into a flat pancake in your palm and gently place the rice on top of the fruit in the bowl, being careful not to disrupt the pattern of dried fruit. Continue forming rice pancakes and stacking them in the bowl until you’ve used up half of the rice and created a fairly flat surface over the fruit (press down gently on the rice as you go to create even layers).
7. Carefully spread the red bean paste over the surface of the rice layers and then top with the lotus seeds.
8. Again forming pancakes with the remaining rice, finish filling the bowl and gently press down to even the top layer. (The pudding may be prepared to this point up to 1 week before steaming, or frozen for up to 1 month. If frozen, let the pudding thaw in the refrigerator for 1 day before steaming.)
9. Fill the bottom of a steamer with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Place the glass bowl in a steamer tier, set over boiling water and steam, covered, until a skewer inserted in the center of the pudding comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, just until the bowl can be handled with ease. Place a serving plate on top of the bowl, invert and carefully unmold the pudding.
10. Shortly before serving the pudding, about 10 to 15 minutes ahead, make a sugar syrup; combine the remaining ½ cup of water and the rock sugar in a small saucepan and bring the liquid to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside.
11. To serve, pour some of the sugar syrup over the top of the pudding. Slice into wedges and serve warm with additional syrup, if desired.
adapted from Cecelia Chaing, The Seventh Daughter